The bag man and the ice queen: George Clooney and Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton
Directed and written by Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton is bracingly vicious. As the titular character, George Clooney plays a fixer or “bag man” for
Basically, Clayton inhabits a corrupt middle-aged world where just about everybody sells their soul to keep their equity and their house in the
With 3 billion dollars at stake, U/North’s in-house chief counsel Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) has to do something. She hires a surveillance team to track Arthur’s movements and phone calls back in
For his part, Clooney continues to impress me with the unpredictability and the edginess of his choices as a director and actor. Given his easy smile and brown-eyed charm, his hair now getting a little grey in his late forties, Clooney could star in the types of movies that Cary Grant used to frequent—comedies and slick international thrillers. Clooney does star in the Ocean series for the money, but he also works hard to greenlight issue films that explore things like the integrity of the press (Good Night and Good Luck) and peak oil (Syriana). Michael Clayton can be classified as a thriller, but it lingers in the mind more as an expose of the betrayal of the public trust that has become second nature to both big business and government.
Michael Clayton is too labyrinthine to explain very easily, but I thoroughly enjoyed its ice cold vision. Corporations continue to master the art of public relations, but when their wholesome image masks cancerous business practices, you can find utterly fake people like Karen Crowder practicing their lines in front of a mirror before the cameras roll. Tilda Swinton played the evil ice queen in The Chronicles of Narnia, and she continues to play one here. With her pale skin and business formal outfits, she shows how despair and ambition can coil behind a chilling facade. Repeatedly in the film, U/North’s televised ads proclaim that “We plant the seed,” and “We grow your world together,” but underneath all of the glowing pictures of smiling children and wheat fields blowing in the breeze, Michael Clayton delivers a toxicology report of corporate and legal depravity that appears all too real.