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Tony Gilroy's directorial debut examines corporate evil

Tony Gilroy's directorial debut examines corporate evil

First-time director Tony Gilroy's legal thriller "Michael Clayton," starring George Clooney, is not the typical rage against corporate evil, but a more a human story about making peace with how you earn a buck.
The film, made its world premiere Friday at the Venice film festival where it is competing for the top prize. It is set around a major New York City corporate law firm's attempts to settle a multimillion dollar class-action suit against one of its clients.
But the entities are kept in the background, behind the individuals inside their midtown Manhattan corner offices who, one decision at a time, inch away from their principles.
Clooney plays a burnt-out, in-house fixer for the law firm, the guy who cleans up embarrassing and damaging problems for major clients. After 17 years on the job, he hasn't been made partner, like an ugly but necessary secret the firm would rather not acknowledge, and is left with mounting debt from gambling, a divorce and a failed business venture.
Tilda Swinton stars as Karen Crowder, the firm's chief counsel whose career rests on the settlement. Tom Wilkinson plays Arthur Edens, the lead trial attorney in the case whose manic episode sets off the crisis, and Sydney Pollack appears as the firm's commanding senior partners.
Gilroy, who wrote the script and then held on to it for years until he could make the film without big-studio compromises, said he didn't want to make a movie about corporate malfeasance, but something about how people reach the moment of making compromising decisions.
"All these corporations that you talk about, they are all inhabited by people. It is not some other occult superpower that is deciding this," Gilroy said. "Every day, they go back and make a small paper cut on their morality."
Swinton, whose character takes the greatest moral dive, said she loved the way Gilroy's script gave her character private moments when she "puts on her identity." In the opening sequence, Karen is pictured in a bathroom stall, sweating profusely and as she contemplates the enormity of her actions.
"When I read the script ... here was this bad guy, woman, and (Gilroy) did the thing I always wondered about, that is, how do they face themselves in the mirror in the bathroom in the morning?" Swinton said.
"I'm a soldier's daughter and I've all my life wondered what it takes people to do inhuman things. Always. It's the subject of my whole quest."
Clooney acknowledged he was cautious about getting involved with a first-time director, but said Gilroy immediately inspired confidence.
"Being a director is so much like being a general. Are you going to follow this guy up a hill or not," Clooney said.
An acclaimed scriptwriter who wrote "The Bourne Identity" and its sequels, Gilroy called Clooney "the bodyguard," whose name gave the picture clout and helped get it made.
Clooney, who didn't get paid to make the film but will take a cut of any profits, waved off his contributions.
"You gamble on the film making money," Clooney said. "If not, you do it for free. 'The Good German' didn't' make money. In that sense, I'm the bodyguard. I want to get films made.'
Gilroy has said he wanted Clooney to appear ragged in the film _ and the actor said he was able to oblige because the filming coincided with a hectic Oscar campaign for two of his films.
"I was beat, I was really beat up," Clooney said. "And I didn't feel the need not to be beat up."
Toward the end of the movie, Clooney's character speeds away from another mess he's had to clean up, as if trying to get away from himself. But something catches his eye. He gets out of his car and climbs a hillside toward three horses, which stand still and allow him to get close. Their appearance literally saves his life.
While the scene has a nearly divine quality, Gilroy said the movie provides little redemption.
"I don't think there are happy days ahead for Michael Clayton," Gilroy said. "The price he pays for the crippled redemption he has at the end is very, very high."
"Michael Clayton" is set for worldwide release in October.


Updated : 2021-03-04 02:10 GMT+08:00