There comes a point in everyone's life—though for most of us, it is hardly a singular event—when we reach a crossroad and must make a decision as to which direction to proceed. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is at such a place. What he decides will determine the course, both physically and morally, of the rest of his life.
Clayton is an in-house "fixer" at Kenner, Bach and Ledeen, one of the most powerful law firms in New York City. A former prosecutor from a family of blue-collar cops, Clayton now makes his living managing the firm's dirty laundry at the behest of co-founder Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack). If a client is involved in a hit-and-run accident, they call Clayton. If the wife of a high-profile politician is caught shoplifting, they call Clayton.
But cleaning up others' messes has started to wear thin, and Clayton finds that after 15 years on the job, he is world-weary and burned out. "I'm not a miracle worker," he tells one of the scumbags he's sent to help, "I'm a janitor."
Clayton's frustration couldn't come at a worse time. On the eve of massive settlement for one of their largest clients, the agrochemical company U/North, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), the firm's brilliant top litigator, suffers a shockingly embarrassing mental breakdown which threatens to sabotage the entire case. Clayton is called in to look after his friend and see to it that any damage he might have caused is contained, diffused, and quietly swept under the rug.
Arthur reveals the discovery of a "smoking gun" memo implicating U/North in the death of dozens of innocent people. In a Damascus moment reminiscent of Howard Beale's Network rant, Arthur exposes a tenuous sanity all but crushed by the weight of a lifetime of moral indiscretions. ...