Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Michael Clayton is a legal sin eater, taking into his soul the culpability of those with deep pockets whose transgressions he cleans. And what does he have to show for it — gaseous assets, with a marriage, equity and pride all vaporized?
George Clooney found his career-best role in Tony Gilroy’s elegant 2007 thriller, elevating his game for one of the most memorably realized portrayals of occupational anguish, frustration and salvation of the Zeroes, or any decade.
And Tilda Swinton, in an Oscar-winning performance as Clayton’s calculating rival, showed damage control damning her soul with decisions fueled only by what she believed to be the best options in a bad situation.
When Clayton’s mentor, Edens (Tom Wilkinson), loses his faculties while defending the U/North company against pollution charges, Clayton steps in. (While it seems there’s little new to be done with a man mad as hell, Wilkinson gives Edens a soft, sad sense of self-alienation.) Clayton uncovers a conspiracy that tests how far he’s willing to bend his morals.
Gilroy’s direction combined earthbound beauty with messages of corporate revulsion in the same shot. His screenwriting surprises unfolded with methodical care — smart enough to know the power of a scare and small, circular details. Gilroy even used closing credits for a knockout scene of character exhalation.
Suspense never hinged on whether U/North was guilty, but whether Clayton would make it out alive from the battle between his temptations and redemption. Clooney made this man a picture of imperfections, yielding a perfect film.