Tony Gilroy who has masterfully told the Jason Bourne story in his Bourne screenplays, does an excellent job as novice director in Michael Clayton. Besides excellent story telling, Gilroy did an exceptional job of getting great performances out of his lead actors, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.
Of all of these actors, Tom Wilkinson truly has the meaty part of Arthur Edens, the heavily-prescribed, psychologically deteriorating attorney with a conscience.
I appreciate Wilkinson character which suddenly feels the weight of "defending the wrong side" for years, and wanting the truth of guilt to be exposed even at the cost of him loosing his case. There is a reality to me of asking, what type of pain one might experience if one wakes up out of "the game" and begin to question your own actions.
What might be seen as nobility (or stupidity) is complicated by Wilkinson's character as the catalyst for his turn-about comes from the strange love/attraction of a young teen client of the prosecution who the attorney suddenly has feelings for, so much so that it warrants him getting naked and becoming a spectacle during a witness interview.
And I think this over-the-top character could have gone way wrong and not have worked had the wrong actor played this character. But Tom Wilkinson is the perfect actor, doing exceptional work in this role.
I can't see how Tom Wilkinson will not get nominated for an Oscar in the Supporting Actor category this year. I think the film itself, Michael Clayton, could be a film that slips into the Academies top five this year, depending on how some other films fair. But I certainly would not be surprised to Clooney, Swinton or Wilkinson receive nominations.