‘Bourne’ director talks with The Villanovan about new thriller

Natalie Smith

By Natalie Smith

Staff Reporter

Provocative and insightful, “Michael Clayton” is a character-driven thriller that makes clear just how thin the line between right and wrong really is when pockets are deep enough to re-draw the boundaries.

When there’s a problem, there’s always an answer. And if the answer is undesirable, then Michael Clayton can fix it.

Clayton (George Clooney) is nothing more than a glorified janitor for corporate America, making a career out of sculpting the truth. He is the best, and he has nothing to show for it.

When Clayton’s associate, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), seemingly abandons his sanity and professional aspirations to compile a lawsuit against the very corporation he has been representing for eight years, Clayton’s boss (Sydney Pollack) expects him to once again make the problem disappear.

As Clayton struggles to keep his problems from sliding out of control, he finds that the price he may have to pay to make everything go away is his life.

Written and directed by Tony Gilroy (“The Devil’s Advocate,” “The Bourne Identity,” “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Ultimatum”) “Michael Clayton” finds itself in a strong tradition of quality films with descriptive cinematography, a riveting plot and flawless acting.

The truth needs no adjusting; “Michael Clayton” is one of the best films of the year.

The film opens tomorrow in select theatres and Oct. 12 everywhere.

Gilroy sits down to discuss his inspirations for the film, his directorial advantages, his insight and to help us figure out why the movie is so good.

In your directorial debut, was it difficult having a cast that included two directors?

It was only beneficial. In terms of George [Clooney] and Sydney [Pollack] being on set and being directors … by the time we got there, it was so incremental that we’d really built up a lot of trust along the way, so I was in good shape with them. The most important thing is they’re directors, but they both really wanted to be actors on the show. They’re both really fine actors.

Was it a big advantage to have written the script you were


I mean, if you’re writing really well, you’ve directed every movie that you’ve written. They’re alive for you.

If you’re a writer and you’re directing a movie to protect your script, you’re screwed; that’s the wrong reason to do it. The big advantage is you’re the one who can be there and change it. You’re free to do it; you can write on set. You know the material well enough.

What is it about the corporate world that drove you to explore some of its inner workings the way you did in this film?

I live in New York, and I’ve lived there for 30 years, and I’ve raised children, and my friends are journalists and “money/money” business people and attorneys, so it’s not a mystery to me. But I really hadn’t been inside.

With “The Devil’s Advocate” we were going out on the wreckage, and I was just completely struck by how unglamorous it was and how ugly and how awful it was for the people that were working there.

And they also had this huge infastructure that supported them. It wasn’t courtrooms. It wasn’t wood paneled offices, it was word processing people 24 hours-a-day cranking out documents and partners at three o’clock in the morning with paperwork everywhere.

Do you think that “fixers” really exist?

I think wherever you put money in problems there’s first class and economy. It doesn’t matter if it’s health care or education or justice.

If you’re rich and you get arrested, there’s someone in the courthouse; whether it’s the clerk or the attorney or a cop, there’s someone fixing things all the time. It is not a job anyone advertises.

So what is this movie really about?

A: It’s not about who did it or what they did; it’s about why they did it and how they did it and what it cost them. The movie to me is mostly about morality. I don’t think you should do “work” that you think is wrong. I won’t go too far, but the two people who sort of represent the conscience are a 10-year-old boy who’s confused and searching and a guy who’s gone off his medication. And, well, there’s a connection between the two of them; it’s very suspect. I don’t want anything to be on solid ground in this movie.

How do you like the one-sheet?

I didn’t come up with that. I think it’s a great one-sheet.

That’s what Michael Clayton’s been doing all these years, kind of shaving away at the truth, and sort of everything’s up for grabs. I’m very pleased with my film.