Michael Clayton 

George Clooney neither shape-shifts with chameleonic virtuosity, devours scenery with actorly intensity, or indulges sentimentality to beg for your love. But he's a terrific movie actor in the old-fashioned, pre-Method understanding of the type. He has presence and charm, with the skill and gravitas to give his performances more depth in the right settings. As Michael Clayton, the gradually unraveling "fixer" at a high-powered law firm, Clooney takes his suave, assured screen persona and shows it in a rattled, uncertain state. He has the look and feel of Cary Grant's dramatic performances in movies such as Notorious or, especially, North By Northwest.

And, thankfully, he delivers it in a movie good enough to match him. The story of an attorney in the midst of a moral awakening, confronting a complicated ethical dilemma, Michael Clayton seems to be a legal thriller in the John Grisham mold, except Grisham's protagonists are rarely (ever?) allowed to be so morally compromised.

Here, Clooney's legal custodian is pulled into the morass of a class action suit against a giant chemical company after his colleague (Tom Wilkinson), who has been charged with defending the corporation, goes off the reservation. Writer/director Tony Gilroy twists the story's chronology in smart, modest ways, leaping backward from an opening scene to elaborate on the crucial bits of character and narrative information presented early on. Some plot twists and motivations may not hold up very well under scrutiny, but as an act of procedural moviemaking and morally complex character development, Michael Clayton is terrific.

Now showing, multiple locations.

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