It will no doubt be said time and again of Michael Clayton: best John Grisham adaptation ever. Only, it's from screenwriter Tony Gilroy (who penned the first two Bourne movies), making his directorial debut. For six years, an agrochemical company called U/North has been fighting a class action suit in which the plaintiffs allege its fertilizer is lethal. Attorney Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has been defending U/North, but he's a cracked shell of his former brilliant self, and he threatens to destroy the company he's been protecting. U/North's in-house counsel, played by Tilda Swinton beneath a layer of extra flab and a sheen of dripping sweat, would like Arthur muzzled—by any means necessary. Caught between them is the hollow man himself, in need of redemption. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is broke, alone, and no longer even good at his job of fixing what his law firm breaks—as in, the rules. It would seem an impossible (or at least a preposterously pretentious) trick, turning the commonplace "legal thriller" into something deeply felt. But Gilroy's up to the challenge, as is his uniformly astounding cast. Michael Clayton has all the makings of something familiar and ordinary, but it argues its case as anything but.
Swinton: excellent as usual.
Opens at Pacific Place, Fri., Oct. 5. Rated R. 120 minutes.