Michael [1996]

George Clooney's performance drives this tense corporate thriller from Bourne trilogy screenwriter James Gilroy, who makes his directorial debut here. Clooney is the eponymous "hero," a burnt-out lawyer who cleans up legal messes created by the clients of a large law firm. When a crisis materializes in the form of the firm's top shark (Tom Wilkinson) suffering an apparent meltdown while defending a shady chemical company from lawsuits, Clayton discovers not only a cover-up to deny payments to farmers injured by the company's products, but a chance to find some purpose in the face of his life's downward. Clooney (who also co-produced the film) brings soul and quiet determination to his beleaguered character, and there's excellent support from Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack (also a co-producer), and Michael O'Keefe; Gilroy's script also does a solid job of stacking the deck against Clayton as he attempts to ferret out the truth behind the cover-up. Unfortunately, the film settles for a pat conclusion that, while emotionally satisfying, feels forced and delivers an overly simplistic message (corporations can be bad; morally questionable work can make one feel dirty). And Tilda Swinton is wasted in a thankless role as the chemical company's nerve-wracked and unsympathetic legal counsel. Still, Clooney fans will appreciate this fine addition to his growing roster of flawed heroes. -- Paul Gaita

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