Tony Gilroy is no stranger to the inner workings of law firms. He researched how things operated while writing the screenplay for THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, but with MICHAEL CLAYTON, which marks his directorial debut, he kept things strictly out of the supernatural realm while still exploring the evil at work in the world. When we spoke on October 10, 2007, he revealed a puckish sense of humor to complement a sharp mind as he opined about the loneliness of the writer, leaving interpretation to the audience, and when madness is sanity.
MICHAEL CLAYTON begins with a monologue by Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), a brilliant but unhinged litigator who has spent too much of his life defending the indefensible. In it, beautifully encapsulated, is the heart of the film, which is to say, that it’s only a madman who has the clarity of vision to do the right thing. To be exact, it’s a manic-depressive who has gone off his meds. The particulars are a lawsuit against UNorth, a corporation accused of knowingly poisoning the users of its product, and the titular fixer (George Clooney) of the law firm UNorth has hired to defend itself, who is called in to clean up the mess Edens has caused by suddenly, inexplicably, wanting to tell the truth about it all. The high-stakes, the way money makes every moral compromise a survival imperative, makes this a thriller of the most sophisticated type, playing the macrocosm of Clayton’s professional problems against the microcosm of the soul he thought he had conveniently compartmentalized.