Metascore
82

Universal acclaim - based on 36 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 36 out of 36
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 36
  3. Negative: 0 out of 36
  1. 100
    I don't know what vast significance Michael Clayton has (it involves deadly pollution but isn't a message movie). But I know it is just about perfect as an exercise in the genre.
  2. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    100
    It's a rare film that can challenge our minds and rattle our nerves so profoundly. This is unequivocally a thriller for adults. A deftly written, tautly suspenseful and intellectually demanding morality tale.
  3. It's better than good; it's such a crackling and mature and accomplished movie that it just about restores your faith.
  4. 91
    At once spare and dense, chilly and thrilling, literate and visceral, it feeds in gray areas, teasing ambiguities and conundrums out of shadows and making strengths of inconclusiveness and uncertainty.
  5. 90
    This loving throwback to the paranoid thrillers of the ’70s is a beauty.
  6. 90
    This uncommonly intelligent thriller evokes the great films of the 1970s ("All the President's Men," "Klute," "Three Days of the Condor") that managed to elicit gritty urban realism while maintaining a suave sense of style and moral complexity.
  7. 89
    Like Spencer Tracy, Gene Hackman, and others who have made acting on the big screen seem so easy while taking us on a journey that is far from simple, Clooney is the real thing.
  8. 88
    Deliberate, demanding and character-driven, Michael Clayton flies in the face of what sells at the multiplex. I couldn't have liked it more.
  9. Michael Clayton is a here’s-how-it-happened drama, cleverly but not over-elaborately structured.
  10. 88
    An excellent legal thriller elevated to superb drama by the actor's (Clooney) central performance.
  11. Tony Gilroy, co-author of the superb Jason Bourne film trilogy, makes a stunning directorial debut with Michael Clayton, an out-of-courtroom drama that helps solidify George Clooney's acting bona fides.
  12. 88
    There are more than ample rewards for discerning adults: Some of the best dialogue in a recent movie and a gallery of unforgettable performances.
  13. After Clooney, who gives a sterling performance as a tarnished figure, the standout performance belongs to Wilkinson, a geyser of manic eloquence. Also quite fine are Swinton and Sydney Pollack.
  14. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    88
    Michael Clayton is about the gap between predatory professionalism and the sins of real life - about how those sins can corrode the hardest business suit of armor.
  15. Careful casting adds to verisimilitude. Nobody carries off a chilly authority figure like Tilda Swinton, who represents the chemical company; Pollack, who has more or less stopped directing, now embodies urbane amorality as an actor; Wilkinson, whose career has mostly been devoted to repressed or depressed characters, enjoys his turn as a bright-eyed fanatic.
  16. A spellbinding action-drama, skillfully built upon a scary corporate conspiracy, chock-full of enjoyable downbeat performances.
  17. 83
    In a heartbreaking, scene-stealing performance, Wilkinson plays his bipolar character's manic delirium as a heightened form of awareness, a life-affirming source of moral clarity in a cloudy and corrupt world.
  18. As with the Bourne films, Gilroy has a knack for creating strong characters and situations that resonate with tension. It may be formula, but the guy is a solid chemist as he crafts excellent set-ups and payoffs.
  19. 80
    Quite possibly Clooney’s best effort to date.
  20. 80
    Instead of taking control of the movie in any overt way, Clooney commands our attention by swimming just beneath its surface. He's a disappearing act with staying power.
  21. Reviewed by: Robert Wilonsky
    80
    Gilroy's up to the challenge, as is his uniformly astounding cast--Clooney, especially, as the charmed and charming man stripped of his superpowers, but also Wilkinson and Swinton as the mirror images of each other.
  22. A smart and suspenseful legal thriller that comes completely alive on-screen.
  23. Mr. Gilroy hasn’t reinvented the legal thriller here, but I doubt that was his intention; at its best and most ambitious, the film plays less like a variation on a Hollywood standard than a reappraisal. It’s a modest reappraisal, adult, sincere, intelligent, absorbing; it entertains without shame.
  24. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    80
    The great strength of Michael Clayton is that it's no "Erin Brockovich." Rather than a populist tale of class-action triumph, the movie is a grim vision of legal and ethical compromise at the top.
  25. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    80
    Michael Clayton is not an exercise in high-tension energy; you'll never confuse its eponymous protagonist with Jason Bourne. But it does have enough of a melodramatic pulse to keep you engaged in its story and, better than that, it is full of plausible characters who are capable of surprising -- and surpassing -- your expectations.
  26. 80
    It’s all fascinating. Gilroy is an entertainer.
  27. Has a slow build and a strong payoff, but George Clooney is the element that holds it together.
  28. 75
    While Gilroy deploys the occasional exploding car, the film's climax is all words -- angry, carefully sharpened words -- with the stopping power of large-caliber bullets.
  29. 75
    There is an audience out there for slower, more intellectual thrillers. This is a motion picture for them to discover.
  30. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    75
    Michal Clayton shares a number of affinities with Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet's "Network." Wilkinson's got the so-mad-he's-sane Peter Finch position; while Swinton embodies a sexless, neurotic, overstressed variant of Faye Dunaway's character. Which leaves Clooney as the (considerably younger) William Holden of the piece. And, yes, he makes the most of it.
  31. Instead of the typical John Grisham-style connect-the-dots legal thriller, we get a film that's idiosyncratic, with a time-shifting structure, a surfeit of subplots and characters.
  32. Clooney is as good as he has ever been.
  33. Reviewed by: Brian Lowry
    70
    Features strong performances and a solid story, drawn from the familiar well of faceless corporations grinding ordinary people through their profit-making machinery. Yet Gilroy's fidelity to his script comes at the expense of the pacing.
  34. George Clooney's film noir sensibility in the title role feels authentic, and admirably solid.
  35. 70
    Like "The Verdict," this is a big, crowd-pleasing Hollywood redemption drama in which the lonely hero not only thwarts the corporate villains in the end but silences them with a killer riposte.
  36. Without the steadfast intelligence of Clooney's performance, Michael Clayton wouldn't work half as well as it does.
User Score
7.2

Generally favorable reviews- based on 272 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Negative: 23 out of 155
  1. Dec 11, 2011
    4
    I have watched various movies in my life and I believe I am one of the most successful metacritic movie reviewers up to date. However, neverI have watched various movies in my life and I believe I am one of the most successful metacritic movie reviewers up to date. However, never in my days did I see such **** up movie like "Michael Clayton". First to start off, the movie is a genre exercise; it throws in all the ingredients into one bowl for a cake. But the problem is that the cake tastes like **** I have NO clue how the story goes on and it's mainly compromised of little bits of unfinished stories. However the movie has no point of it's existence....because there is NO MORAL. What's the point of the story? Stop pollution? certainly one of the most depressing movie of the year. Full Review »
  2. Dec 20, 2013
    8
    A very atmospheric and exceptionally well written drama that doubles as a thriller, Michael Clayton will grip any intelligent moviegoer untilA very atmospheric and exceptionally well written drama that doubles as a thriller, Michael Clayton will grip any intelligent moviegoer until the end. The plot delves into corporation conspiracies, murder, and deceit galore, and it's all played out brilliantly. The cast is great and the direction is precise, but I couldn't help but feel that something was missing. I previously gave this movie a 9, but as time went on I began to realize that it's actually somewhat limited. It works almost perfectly when you're watching it, but it doesn't really linger on the mind when it's over. It also could have been more kinetic. I'm not saying that I wanted full on shoot outs, but a couple of fights should have been thrown in for good measure. Complaints aside, it's still very, very good. Forgot to mention how beautifully shot the film, but you'll see that for yourself. Full Review »
  3. Oct 8, 2013
    10
    Many people have notions of what a 'fixer' may actually do, some see rubber gloves and cleaning up crime scenes, others may see smoothMany people have notions of what a 'fixer' may actually do, some see rubber gloves and cleaning up crime scenes, others may see smooth talking, good looking and suited up individuals who confidently go about their job as a sought after individual. But George Clooney plays a different sort of fixer, his character, Michael Clayton, is realistic in his approach to every part of his job, he isn't a miracle worker, nor does he make every problem disappear because at the end of the day, he simply cleans up the mess, but the bigger the mess, the more complex the clean-up. Clayton himself has problems of his own that he cannot sweep under the rug, while he may look the part, Clooney portrays a character who isn't everything he appears, he owes serious amounts of money to loan sharks after we discover his gambling habit, struggles with financing his life and desperately tries to repair his past mistakes but still creating new ones, all while taking on a big "mess". The law firm he works for is facing a crisis after one of its partners, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) has quite the mental breakdown in the midst of a massive court case which Arthur knows the company his firm is defending are guilty of their crimes, something Michael is desperately trying to amend. It's clear to see why we have the title named after our main character, it is focusing on the life a man leads who feels he has no purpose, a man who is taken for granted and then thrown to the side, something Clooney portrays through many forces and silent stares, while we also see how he tries to balance his life as a dad and a man with a job that he can't really explain to anyone, but he shares the screen with someone else who is confident in her job but masks her demons, lawyer for the big client, a client called UNorth being sued for illegal chemical dumping Karen Crowdor (Tilda Swinton), equally as cunning and potentially dangerous as Clayton. It's films like this where we look to the talent involved to realise they are the driving force of the film, the tension and chemistry they create while also taking from a sharp and smartly written piece from director and writer Tony Gilroy, who cleverly takes a sombre approach to have this business thriller being much more than it seems, there isn't realty an inspiring touch to leave you flabbergasted, but more about style and the performances, it focuses solely on the consequences of actions as we have many guilt-ridden characters with too much power on their hands. As mentioned, the performances are the standout moments of this film, Clooney proves his stability and grit while Swinton also shoes her worth as the sort of Yin to Clooney's Yang. It's a smart and complex film that stays intriguing thanks to its strong cast and compelling story. Full Review »