A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that that although teens might be interested in this mature thriller thanks to star George Clooney, it's definitely aimed at adults. Fast-talking and complicated, it deals with complex issues like corporate corruption, toxic consumer products, and legal manipulation. An empty car explodes twice (the first time is a flashforward), and a murder is committed very coldly (by needle, with the killers attacking the victim in his apartment). A woman appears in her bra and slip, with visible cleavage, and a male lawyer undressing (down to his underwear) during a deposition is a significant plot point. Language includes many uses of "f--k," plus other profanity.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Deft and intelligent, MICHAEL CLAYTON is at heart a conventional story about a world-weary hero confronting a difficult moral decision. It begins with the breakdown of successful high-stakes lawyer Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson). Addressing his old friend/colleague Michael Clayton (George Clooney) in a kind of confession, Arthur laments his career of defending corrupt, wealthy clients: "I'm suddenly consumed with the overwhelming sensation that I'm covered with some sort of filth." His despair is prompted by a class-action suit against (fictional) corporation U/North, which has produced and aggressively marketed a cancer-causing weed killer. Literally off his meds, Arthur provides his firm -- headed by Arthur's longtime friend Marty (Sydney Pollack) -- with a reason to dismiss his concerns when he strips naked during a deposition and declares his love for a wholesome young claimant. Michael, the firm's "fixer," is called in to get control of Arthur. At the same time, U/North instructs its own in-house counsel, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), to ensure a settlement in the case and make it go away. To do this, she needs to silence Arthur, who has evidence of U/North's culpability.
Is it any good?
At one level, Tony Gilroy's movie is a tour de force of crosscutting between Karen and Michael's efforts. But even more compelling is its meditation on the ways that money, politics, and fear shape moral choices. Michael's admiration for Arthur makes him question the cruel urgency of the clean-up mission; he's also in dire need of money, due to a bad gambling habit and a recent failed business venture. In an early scene, Michael speeds along a road at dawn, frustrated by his latest minor assignment (fixing a hit-and-run committed by one of the firm's "huge" clients). He pulls over when he spots a clutch of horses atop a grassy hill. As he makes his way to them, pausing just to hear them breathe, the air fresh and the morning light faint, Michael looks almost at peace. When the scene is interrupted by violence, he's reminded of the cruelties he commits and confronts every day. And even when he tracks down Arthur, he faces still more-confounding dilemmas: Arthur is right, the firm is wrong, and Michael's stuck in the middle.
At the same time, Karen is caught up in her own deepening moral morass. Swinton is brilliant and chilling as a woman so focused on proving herself worthy in a man's world that she can't imagine how out of her depth she is. As she rehearses her speeches for U/North clients or dries her armpits in a corporate ladies' room, she's both resolute and clueless. Neither she nor Michael can find solace, no matter their movie-style "wins" or "losses."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes this movie for adults, as opposed to kids or even teens. Is it the subject matter? The dialogue? What do you need to know or understand in order to be able to "get" a movie like this? Families can also discuss the idea of right vs. wrong. Is it always easy to tell which is which? What does Michael do that's "right" in this movie? What does he do that's "wrong"?