widescreen – George Clooney presides in Michael Clayton

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Im not a miracle worker, Im a janitor, growls Michael Clayton (George Clooney) to a client of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, the corporate law firm where he works. The smaller the mess, the easier for me to clean up.

Clayton works as a fixer, someone who trades in the back-door dealings of the firm and straddles the line between legal advisor and bag man. In Michael, Clayton finds himself up to his eyeballs in corporate mess.

The movie is a throwback to the glory days of directors like Sidney Lumet as well as Sydney Pollack, who makes an appearance as the ethically slippery head of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen.

Michael is a tale of remorse and of redemption, of sizing up the options and choosing the least objectionable path. Its cut from the cloth of films like Erin Brockovich and although its not as feel-good it grips you in an mature fashion. It gives you faith that there are some folks in Hollywood who still believe in quality that extends into a trio of performances by Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.

Its a movie well-served by its writer, Tony Gilroy, who adapted all three Bourne films, making his directing debut here.

Gilroy tells the first two-thirds of the film in flashback, so its important to pay close attention. He tosses out a handful of puzzle pieces before putting everything together and revealing the truth. That truth leads to a climactic encounter of personal vindication for the protagonist, which defines films of this type.

When we meet him, Michael Clayton is in dire need of a life overhaul. Hes in debt, divorced, has a son who idolizes him but for whom he barely has time, and his professional life is in shambles.

When one of the firms top lawyers, Arthur Eden (Wilkinson), undergoes an epic meltdown, stripping naked in a deposition room, it sparks a series of events that frames four life-changing days in the life of Michael Clayton, who must quickly stop the bleeding or face the consequences.

On the other side of the fence is Karen Crowder (Swinton), who plays an insecure dragon lady uncertain of her next move. She makes a difficult choice and steps into dark, murky terrain.

There really is no good guy in Michael Clayton, just different levels of reprehensibility.

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