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Michael Clayton (2007): A Criminally Underrated Thriller

Michael Clayton (2007) is a crime thriller following titular character Michael Clayton (portrayed by George Clooney) as he tries to clean up the mess of a lawsuit gone awry when the lead litigator and close friend Arthur Edens (portrayed by Tom Wilkinson) has an…extremely public mental breakdown. As he figures out what happens, the corporation being sued and the corporation's general counsel Karen Crowder (portrayed by Tilda Swinton) start to become anxious and decide to take matters into their own hands. With the corporations breathing down his neck along with his friend’s unwavering commitment to the truth, Clayton is given an ultimatum: erase the truth or fight for it.

This was a film that was never on my radar. However, when I came across it, I was completely blown away by the performances (particularly Clooney’s in the lead role), the dialogue, and the arguably the inner conflict everyone has about what they have to do. Clayton is an every man by the look of it, going to a job he somewhat likes with coworkers he can stand, with a few exceptions of close friends like Arthur. This film is so fascinating because of its semi-realistic world, since we have shady companies and lawyers that try to protect them. George Clooney absolutely dominates the screen as titular character allowing the audience to believe the struggle of Clayton. Michael Clayton handles the “What if” question of a corporate lawyer that said enough is enough very well, and ponders us to wonder, will he get out of this untouched?

I also have to give credit to the Oscar winning performance of Tilda Swinton in the role of Karen Crowder, as she portrays a woman at the breaking point trying not to drown under the immense scrutiny her bosses and clients are putting on her. She honestly isn’t the villain in this story, that title goes to her bosses. Swinton’s character is so relatable we honestly do feel quite a bit of sympathy for her situation, although we shouldn’t condone her actions. While we may not root for her and we empathize with her lose-lose predicament, in the end someone must come out on top.

Not only does this film give great characters like Michael Clayton, Arthur, and Karen but it also gives some of the sharpest dialogue I have ever heard in a movie. It isn’t funny or sarcastic like a Marvel movie, but hard hitting and realistic like an Aaron Sorkin screenplay. It somehow has the ability to give what would be ridiculous one liners some emotional weight rather than just playing it for laughs. Some lines said could come off as corny or laughable if put in a less capable cast’s hands, but in Michael Clayton (2007) it reveals how characters are emotionally at that given point in time and can have multiple interpretations to it.

Regardless of the dialogue and multilayered characters, Michael Clayton (2007) is ultimately a story of doing the right thing and how doing the right thing isn’t always such an easy decision. Clayton had real world issues that he was trying to take care of while also doing the right thing, in the end he had a choice to make and he chose to save himself. When his issues were resolved, Clayton was given a second chance to do the right thing; leading to one of the most satisfying climaxes ever to grace a movie screen.

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