Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a fixer from a prestigious New York City law firm, using his connections and his knowledge of legal loopholes for his clients’ benefit. After leaving an underground poker game and dealing with a wealthy client’s (Denis O’Hare) hit and run, Michael drives aimlessly and stops at a remote field. When he leaves his car to admire some horses, it explodes behind him.
Four days earlier, one of the firm’s leading attorneys, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), has a bizarre outburst in the middle of a deposition in Milwaukee involving a class action lawsuit against U-North, an agricultural products conglomerate. Michael arrives in Milwaukee and bails Arthur out of jail, but he escapes from their hotel room in the middle of the night.
Meanwhile, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), U-North’s general counsel, discovers that Arthur had come into possession of a confidential U-North document detailing the company’s decision to manufacture a weed killer that it knew to be carcinogenic. She hires two men (Robert Prescott and Terry Serpico) to follow him and plant bugs in his apartment and phone. When they realize that Arthur is building a case against his own client, Karen asks that he be permanently incapacitated. They assassinate Arthur in a manner designed to resemble suicide.
Clayton is a lawyer with a major firm headed by tough yet compassionate CEO Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack, finally in top form as an actor), but Michael’s position in the firm has been reduced to a ‘fixer/janitor’, a man who cleans up messes that are always part of legal cases.
Michael is cool, brilliant, but is struggling with his own demons of gambling addiction, inherited debt from covering for his wasted alcoholic/druggie brother’s failure as a restaurateur, and a divorced man trying to relate to his son. When a long term law suit against a major chemical corporation comes to a head, the chief lawyer for the case Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) falls victim to the pressure of the case, and while he holds the key to the truths involved, he disintegrates into a manic depressive state.
Character to watch: George Clooney as Michael Clayton.
Journal your answers to the following questions after you watch the movie.
- How does this particular character’s journey compare with yours?
- Did the character develop certain characteristics during the movie that you have or that you would like to have? If so, what are those characteristics?
- What obstacles did this character face? What was his or her biggest challenge?
- What would you have done differently if you had been in the same position as the character?
- Is this character the type of person you would be friends with? Why or why not?