Michael Clayton is the auspicious directorial debut by Tony Gilroy, who helped pen well-known titles such as 1998’s The Devil Advocate, 2000’s Proof of Life and the ever popular Bourne films. Just to be nominated for Best Picture is an achievement, but to do it on one’s first try is quite remarkable. This was the film that officially kicked off Oscar season as it was released on October 5, 2007, after garnering a lot of positive buzz at the Venice and Toronto International Film Festivals. Now the film has received seven Oscar nominations, which is a tie with Atonement as the second most nominated film released this year.
George Clooney (nominated for Best Actor) plays the titular Michael Clayton, a ‘fixer’ for the law firm of Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. Clayton handles all of the dirty work and is relied on by his firm to clean up any situation, no matter how messy. Tom Wilkinson (nominated for Best Supporting Actor) plays Arthur Edens, a well-respected attorney who is currently handling a defense case for an agricultural company called U-North, whose weed killing product is being blamed for the deaths of hundreds of people. Edens has a complete mental breakdown and an attack of conscience when he learns that the weedkiller is indeed responsible for those deaths. Edens starts building a case against U-North, meanwhile Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton, nominated for Best Supporting Actress), corporate attorney for U-North, decides to take extreme measures to keep Edens quite. Clayton gets thrown into the middle of this affair when his firm sends him in to keep an eye on Edens.
• Over 100 critic Top 10 lists
• “Best Movie of the Year”- Claudia Puig, USA Today, Richard Schickel, Time Magazine, Richard Roeper, At The Movies With Ebert and Roeper
• AFI Top Ten
• Broadcast Film Critics Association Top 10
• National Board of Review Top 10
• 90 percent fresh rating at Rottentomatoes.com (over 40 rave reviews)
• 82/100 metascore at metacritic.com
• 7 Oscar Nominations, 7 Awards won and another 41 nominations
“Gilroy revises the rules of dramatic thrillers in ways that are modest but refreshing.” -Ty Burr, The Boston Globe
“It’s a modest reappraisal, adult, sincere, intelligent, absorbing; it entertains without shame.” -Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
“It’s just about perfect as an exercise in the genre.” -Roger Ebert, The Chicago-Sun Times
“It’s better than good; it’s such a crackling and mature and accomplished movie that it just about restores your faith.”- Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
Why It Was Nominated
Michael Clayton is definitely the nominee in that interchangeable five spot. So why was it chosen over other acclaimed films like American Gangster, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I’m Not There, Into the Wild, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Zodiac? Well, for one, it was already being nominated for an award in every other major category, so why not best picture? Also, it is the type of film the Academy is looking for: solid screenplay with top-notch performances.
Why It Might Win
Well, that’s really difficult to say. Michael Clayton is definitely the underdog and the least likely to win. But that’s not such a bad thing. I think just the nomination alone is a big plus for the film. Because it was nominated, I wouldn’t be surprised if ten or fifteen years from now Michael Clayton is looked back on as a minor classic.
With titles like No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood at the top and the possiblity of Atonement or Juno pulling an upset, Michael Clayton has little to no chance of winning Best Picture. But as I just said, the nomination will certainly help and should ensure a healthy second life on DVD to go along with the $46 million it took in at the box office.