Today’s movie is a film from 2007 called “Michael Clayton”, written and directed by filmmaker Tony Gilroy. Gilroy is known for writing the screenplays for the Bourne movies, including writing and directing “The Bourne Legacy”, set to release this year, and has also written the screenplays for “State of Play” and “Duplicity” in 2009. If you’ve seen any of these movies already, you know: Tony Gilroy’s movies can be thrilling, but they can be confusing at times. So as I explain to you what “Michael Clayton” is about, I’m going to try my best to describe what all it is about, but I might skip some details. But hey, if you really care, you’ll watch the movie, right? So here goes.
The film centers around… well, a guy named Michael Clayton (George Clooney), a lawyer in New York who calls himself a “janitor”. He can find ways to work a case to a client’s advantage, even if that includes loopholes and connections. As we see him one night talk with a new client about a hit-and-run, he drives one night in the middle of nowhere, and as he stops and gets out of his car at one point, he walks away and his car explodes.
This takes us back four days earlier, at the beginning of Clayton’s latest case. Another attorney, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), apparently off his medications for his bipolar disorder, has stripped naked in a meeting in Milwaukee with a client and gotten himself arrested. But for Edens, it’s a moment of clarity. The plaintiff in his new case is a young woman named Anna (Merritt Wever) who is part of a lawsuit against U-North, a sort of agricultural company whose new weed-killing product is apparently responsible for more than four hundred deaths. U-North is run by Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), who is more concerned about her image as the head of the company than to let a lawsuit ruin her career. And as Clayton tries to convince Edens to calm down and go home, Edens responds apparently out of nowhere: “I am Shiva, the god of death.” (Remember that.)
Clayton takes Edens to his hotel room that night to calm down, but that doesn’t stop Edens from escaping the next morning and heading back to New York. Soon, Crowder finds out that Edens had obtained a confidential file proving that the weed killer was deadly. And what does she do? She gets two guys to spy on him and eventually inject him with a drug that kills him, making his death look like suicide. And that’s what everybody believes… for a while.
Soon, Clayton finds out that Edens had planned for Anna to come to New York to help with his case against U-North, buying her a first-class plane ticket, a hotel room, the works. And if that didn’t make him suspicious enough, U-North was planning on a settlement around that same time. And if that didn’t make him suspicious enough, he learns that Anna told no one about the conversations she and Edens had. Someone must be spying. So as Clayton goes to Edens’ old apartment to investigate, he finds inside a book a copy of a receipt: Edens had ordered thousands of copies of the file he had on U-North’s weed killer.
Eventually, Crowder’s spies find him and try to kill him with a car bomb, which, as we saw at the beginning, doesn’t work. But as the film finishes, Clayton fakes his own death, U-North is about to close a settlement on the lawsuit, and Crowder seems to have succeeded when Clayton finds her at her conference room and shows her the memorandum he’s found. He gets her to give him $10 million to keep quiet about the file, but once she agrees, he pulls out a phone that he’s been recording her message on. He walks away, and the police come and get Crowder and her boss, who asks him who he is. Clayton responds: “I’m Shiva, the god of death!” And Michael Clayton drives away in a cab to who knows where.
Yeah, I left out a bunch of details. Trust me, this movie gets complicated. I didn’t even mention Clayton’s home life: he’s divorced, he only gets to see his son every so often, and his brother Timmy is an alcoholic with whom Clayton tried to start a business with and instead got into debt. But with all this information, what can we conclude about Michael Clayton? He’s just another man with problems who has to make a choice between being the “janitor” that he’s always been or making a mess in exposing a company for their deadly product. In a conversation in the middle of the film that Clayton and Edens have, Clayton sums up his job:
CLAYTON: I’m out there covering for you—I’m telling them everything’s fine, you’re fine, everything is going to be fine, everybody’s cool. I’m out there running this “price of genius” story to anybody who will listen, and then I wake up this morning, and I hear that you’re… messing with documents and [who] knows whatever else. They’re going to take everything away from you!
EDENS: Michael, I have great affection for you, and you live a very rich and interesting life. …But I’ll tell you this: the last place you want to see me is in court.
CLAYTON: I’m not the enemy.
EDENS: Then who are you?
For me, this is the scene that best describes how Michael Clayton is struggling with defining who he is. Is he a good guy, or is he just another corrupt official? He won’t reveal himself as one or the other. This is a term that most Christians like to define as “lukewarm”, quoting Revelation 3:15-16: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
The background for this verse is that as the Apostle John is experiencing… well, the revelation of Christ’s return (which, as I’ve mentioned before, could very well happen at the end of this year, for all we know, but no one can really know for sure), he writes to seven surrounding churches about his visions and what God wants from them. One of those churches was in Laodicea, where churchgoers basically struggled with being all in for spreading the Gospel. And because of this, God said that they cannot be lukewarm—either you’re all in, or you’re not in at all. (Sorry for the clichéd saying.)
That can be a daily struggle for a lot of believers, myself included. With all the temptations and struggles of the world, it can be hard to follow Christ wholeheartedly. However, if we keep our eyes focused on His good, pleasing, and perfect will for us, we can do it. And that’s my prayer for you this week.