I walked out of Michael Clayton feeling something like 'let down,' although a brief examination of my expectations got to the root of the matter. Walking into Michael Clayton, I was hoping for a film along the lines of classic '70s Sidney Lumet or Alan J. Pakula; what I got was something more along the lines of an above-average '90s John Grisham adaptation.

And even that's not necessarily dismissing Michael Clayton; when you realize that it's gone off track from the destination it tried to reach, you're still gladly along for the ride. George Clooney plays the title character -- a New York lawyer with a fairly specific brief. Clayton's been at the big-time firm of Kenner, Back and Ledeen for years, but he's not a partner, and he hasn't set foot in a courtroom in a long time. He's a troubleshooter, a fixer; when a client's in the glue, Clayton's the guy with enough grease to just maybe get him unstuck. That's how we first meet him -- driving in the middle of the night to the house of a client who's gotten in trouble. Clayton can brace the man for what's coming, and guide him through it, but he can't make it go away: "I'm not a miracle worker; I'm a janitor."

And so, we get a fast understanding of Clayton: He knows how the law works -- even if he may not necessarily like it. He can fix anything -- except, it seems, his own life. He's not crazy about his work -- but it pays the bills, and he's got plenty of them. The film (after an unexpected development) flashes back a few days, to show just how Clayton got to where he is right at the moment ...