This Year's Absolutely Perfect Ending: Michael Clayton
by Alex Billington
October 11, 2007
Do you remember browsing over Entertainment Weekly's 40 Perfect Movie Endings back in early August? There were a lot of great films listed, with The Bourne Ultimatum sticking out as the big one from this year. However I've got a new one to add to that list: Michael Clayton. Holy shit, the ending in this movie is exhilarating. It's absolute perfection that I just can't get over. I've seen it twice now and each time I feel a new sense of satisfaction. I'm not just talking about something that maybe I thought was cool, I'm talking about sheer brilliance that hopefully everyone else will recognize.
It's hard to talk about an ending scene without spoiling any tiny bit of it. There's a lot to Michael Clayton's plot, especially the final scene that could be spoiled, but it's that thrill and mystery that makes the movie so damn good. I'll do my best to stray away from any major spoilers, but if you're interested in keeping entirely clean, then I suggest coming back after you've seen it to discuss the ending.
The film continually builds and builds as the plot develops and more is discovered on all sides. You're waiting for that reveal and to figure it all out and once you do, it's still not over. After that you're trying to figure out how Michael's going to put the end cap on it all and how's he going to get "them." From the beginning when that jolt out on the country road throws you headfirst into the story and once it loops all the way back around, you've built up so much energy and anticipation that it's going to be one hell of an exhale.
The end begins when Michael lets it all out with absolute conviction to the villain. He's finally got it and he doesn't even let them make a move. Then he breaks away and as the camera follows him backwards you get one final gasp in before you exhale and utter "holy shit" under your breath. That exhale at that moment is so invigorating that you need a moment to collect your thoughts and get a fresh breath of air. When you start to breathe again slowly and follow Michael to his final destination, that's the breath of fresh air that was needed and the perfect finish. You stare mesmerized at the screen as Clayton himself finally gets the air he needs and the credits start rolling.
It's the combination of the way he confronts the villain, the way the scene plays out, the perfect cinematography, and the final moment in the cab that all makes this ending one of the best of the year. By the end you're familiar Michael Clayton and you sympathize with him, you want him to win both from a legal standpoint and from an emotional standpoint. Feeling that connected to him and feeling the same breathless emotions that he does in those final scenes is an exact chemistry that hardly any filmmaker can achieve.
You may not agree with me and you may not feel the same connection that I had, but I'll stand by my belief that this is one of the greatest endings in a film I've seen in a long time. Tony Gilroy achieves complete perfection in writing, directing, and capturing this finish and I applaud him for this masterful finale.
If you've seen Michael Clayton and have something to say about the ending as well, please comment below.