The Corner

Michael Clayton: Beware the Agri-Ninjas (enormous spoilers)

One of my favorite episodes of WKRP in Cincinnati is when Dr. Johnny Fever breaks a phone and is convinced that the “phone police” are out to get him. If they (whoever “they are”) ever decide to make that plot line into a full-blown feature film, they could do a lot worse than hire the makers of Michael Clayton.

I watched it last night for the first time and while George Clooney was as enjoyable as ever on the big screen, I couldn’t stop laughing at the actual story. If you haven’t seen it, the gist is basically this: Michael Clayton — i.e. Clooney — is an irresolute “bag man” and “fixer” for a high-end law firm. Through a series of twists he comes to have something approximating a restored conscience, in part when he discovers that U-North, a Monsanto or ADM-like agribusiness his law firm had been representing, actually assassinated its own lead defense attorney (and Clooney’s buddy) played by Tom Wilkinson (Jim Baker in HBO’s Recount).

The reason U-North murdered its own lawyer stemmed from the fact that he had something of a nervous breakdown and decided to help out the plaintiff families U-North’s pesticide had killed.

The assassins in the film appear to be ex-military types who work full time for the general counsel of the ersatz Monsanto. They operate with — duh — deadly efficiency, giving the impression that they’ve killed many times before. These Agri-Ninjas make the phone police look like pikers.

Oh, one other odd observation. The general counsel who green-lighted the wet work (played by Tilda Swinton, the White Witch in the Narnia films) is fairly brilliantly portrayed as a woman slightly out of her depth, but desperate to succeed on the other side of the glass ceiling. (There’s a very odd visual theme about her body image that my wife and I couldn’t quite put our fingers on, but it seems to have something to do with what happens to women when they sever themselves from their womanhood to join the star chamber world of big business). If I were a feminist of a certain flavor I would be outraged by the conclusions one could easily draw: not only can women not hack it in the big leagues, but they will resort to murder and other felonies to cover up their own incompetence. Clearly, if we are going to get rid of the glass ceiling, we’re going to have to discontinue the use of highly trained assassins by our Fortune 500 companies. Where the Hasbro-SEALS or the GE-Green Berets will find work is not my problem.

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