Picks and Pans Review: Michael Clayton

updated 10/15/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/15/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack R |

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Weary, bleary corporate fixer Michael Clayton (Clooney) pulls his car to the side of the road and gets out to admire horses grazing serenely in a field. Behind him, the automobile suddenly blows up and he takes off running. Talk about starting a movie with a bang.

When friends ask if there's anything for grown-ups to see at the multiplex these days, I'll be recommending Clayton, a smart thriller that sets your heart pumping and your mind racing. After that jarring early scene, the movie rewinds to four days earlier, with Clayton on the job at an elite Manhattan law firm. There the one-time prosecutor works as a self-described "janitor," cleaning up messes by knowing who to call and pay off. It's one of these messes—involving a colleague (Wilkinson) and a corporate client accused of peddling a toxic weed killer—that soon puts Clayton's own skin at risk.

Screenwriter Tony Gilroy (all three Bourne films) makes a remarkably sure-handed directing debut here. And Clooney gives as sharp a performance as he has ever given—no small compliment—portraying a man who comes to understand that he may be battling not only for his life but, more importantly, his soul.

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