Michael Clayton

MICHAEL CLAYTON….I saw Michael Clayton yesterday, and there was something bugging me thoughout the movie that I didn’t quite put my finger on until it was over. It involves slight spoilers, so I’ll put the rest below the fold.

Here it is. Michael Clayton is a “janitor” for a gigantic law firm. He’s the guy who knows the underbelly of the law, the one who cleans up the dirty messes other guys leave behind. Basically, we’re told that he’s amoral, relentless, and extremely good at what he does. A “miracle worker,” one colleague calls him.

Now, the fact that Clayton develops a conscience by the end of the picture is fine. All part of the plot. But at any point in the film does he actually seem like someone who is supremely competent at cleaning up problems? Not to me. He seems completely at sea the entire time, and not just because he’s having personal difficulties. He offers no practical help to the hit-and-run client he meets in the opening flashforward; he has little success dealing with Arthur; he handles Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) so amateurishly you’d think he’d never dealt with a corporate client before; he has no clue how to deal with the mob folks he owes $75,000 to; and it never even occurs to him that Crowder might hire some muscle to deal with the Arthur situation. Basically, he just doesn’t seem like a guy who’s spent the past 15 years learning all the angles and dealing with the seamy side of the law.

If Clayton had been portrayed as a mediocre fixer, it might have made more sense. But the best in the business? I don’t think so.

And as long as I’m on the subject, did anyone else buy the car bomb thing? After all the care the hit men took to make Arthur’s murder look like a suicide, didn’t it occur to these guys that car bombing Clayton might look a wee bit suspicious? Especially coming just a day or two after Arthur’s convenient “suicide”? And that maybe, just maybe, Clayton’s NYC detective brother might be expected to take bit of interest in the whole thing? Sheesh.

Despite this, I liked the film. The disconnect between Clayton’s supposed talents and his actual conduct during the events of the movie niggled at me while I was watching it, but didn’t really spoil anything. And the car bomb was just a standard issue dumb plot device. Overall, it was a decent popcorn flick.

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