STAR SIZZLES, POWER FIZZLES

The Baltimore Sun

Like the seminal 1949 adult-suspense classic The Third Man, Michael Clayton is that scintillating and rare pop-culture creation, a thriller about character. Each facet of the complex narrative connects to the shifting strengths and values of Michael Clayton, a fixer for a New York corporate law firm. All our hopes that the story will end well, or at least with the sacrifice of only a few good people, are rooted in our confidence that Clayton will prove to be as virtuous as he is savvy - especially because he's played by George Clooney, who understands the power of stardom and how to make it work for a performance. He's glorious - gritty and majestic - in this movie.

While testing his depths of empathy, anguish and black humor, Clooney utilizes the quick mental reflexes and weathered charisma that have put him on the multiplex marquee. No one is better at playing fellows who are not as put-together as they look, whether in a romantic comedy like One Fine Day or a topical adventure like Three Kings. Clooney gets his best showcase yet for this specialty courtesy of the screenwriter Tony Gilroy, who also makes a rock-'em-sock-'em directorial debut.

Michael Clayton (Warner Bros.) Starring George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Sydney Pollack. Directed by Tony Gilroy. Rated R. 119 minutes.

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