4.5 out of 5 stars
Writer Tony Gilroy (the Bourne trilogy, Dolores Claiborne, Extreme Measures) has made an outstanding directorial debut with Michael Clayton, his story of corporate malfeasance and its legal defense. What distinguishes this screenplay from myriad conventional legal/courtroom thrillers is excellent character development, particularly of the secondary players, and tantalizing hints of mysticism, addiction, and family dysfunction. Much psychological terrain is covered effectively and efficiently with deft, minimalist touches. The cast is headed by George Clooney (Oceans 11-13, Syriana) in the title role and Tom Wilkinson (last seen in a terrific turn in Dedication) as his apparently unraveling colleague. Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia, Orlando) is miscast as an venal executive, but that is a tiny blot on an excellent (likely Oscar-contending) film.