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.
Reader Feedback - 37 Comments
Another perfect ending in my opinion....The Kingdom.
Heckle on Oct 11, 2007
I did like the Kingdoms ending. But just what they said and how ironic it was. Other then that, the movie sucked. The Brave One also had a great ending. I will be seeing Michael Clayton tomorrow night so I will be back here to tell you what I thought of the ending.
Jeff Warner on Oct 11, 2007
A deep cleansing breath after a memorable movie. Your review was wonderful.
Diana on Oct 12, 2007
I saw the movie and liked it very much. I like movies where you have to pay attention to everything to see how it all wraps up.Big time movie critics who write reviews for a living are missing a major point of the film when Michael gets out of his car to see the horses. Look closely in a scene before that when he is in his friend's apartment looking thru his colleagues things to know why he got out of the car thereby saving his life. Hint: the book. And yes the ending was perfect. I liked the exhale that Michael gives out in the cab as he tries to calm down after the emotional roller coaster he's been on for four days.
Becky on Oct 12, 2007
Good call Alex. The ending was quite exhilarating. Loved it. A perfect end to a near perfect movie.
Jeff Warner on Oct 12, 2007
So...did anyone notice the taxi that was following Clayton's taxi...for the whole ride? It leaves me to wonder if the goons that Karen had for hire were in it...just a thought. I kept waiting for that single gun shot that would kill Micheal. Thoughts?
Cat on Oct 13, 2007
How did Michael know it was Karen that was guilty?
Paul on Oct 15, 2007
I thought the end was awful. One of the worst I've ever seen. A perfect ending is definitely not when a very VERY intelligent lawyer falls for the ole' wearing a wire scam. Any exhalation on my part was a sigh of disgust at what unbelievably lazy writing that was. I barely believed it when Gordon Gekko fell for it twenty-years ago. And Paul's right: "How did Michael know it was Karen that was guilty?" I was so annoyed at the lamosity of the hidden wire I hadn't thought of that. How did he know it was her? Why not her boss or any one of the thousands of employees? My headline would be: "The Years Most Intelligence Insulting Ending." Bad movie. Absolutely awful ending. Had I missed the opening credits I'd have thought M. Night Shyamalan had written it.
Dirty Harry on Oct 17, 2007
Loved the movie, hated the ending. Sure, the last scene was well shot & acted etc, but it really jarred me out of the realistic/cynical mood established so well by the rest of the film. Kind of the opposite of The Kingdom.
Thatcher on Oct 20, 2007
I don't think that he knew that SHE was guilty as much as he knew what a cowering, emotional woman she was. She was the one in charge, the only one who really had as much knowledge about the situation as Michael, and the only one who really had the power to make those things happen.
Kristin on Oct 22, 2007
Michael met Karen earlier and established her as the head woman in charge. She is also named as the senior executive signing the report. So obviously she would be somewhat involved. Also, I felt the director did a great job at making Karen look vulnerable and not knowing how "these things work". Thereby, she was easily trapped by the "wearing a wire" trick. Contrast this to Gecko: he should have been smarter than that. Great ending. Good movie. Great actor.
grendel on Oct 23, 2007
How pathetic. We thought this movie stunk. It was done better in Civil Action and Erin Brockovich. The idea of a big bad corporation screwing the public is no longer news, is no longer surprising or frightening. Ho Hum. I thought the ending was trite and expected. Did you really think George Clooney was going to go along. Now that would have been an incredible ending. Playing the louse. His role at the firm was not believable for anyone who actually practiced law or who knows it. A former DA in NYC becomes a fixer at a lawfirm - crap. All because of his gambling debts, which really was not dramatized to the extent it would have made him a failure at his profession. The whole bomb in the car would have been so much better if it started that way that you see the bomb placed, he is driving they are trying to set it off, it goes off, you do not know where he is and then it flashes back. Hitchcock said it is more exciting to show the audience what is hidden and dangerous and let the audience watch the star try to avoid it. No, this is on my list of not worth the price of admission.
Bruce on Oct 26, 2007
Bruce, I loved how the assassins who earlier went to all the trouble of killing Clayton's boss so stealthily it required an injection between his toes then BLOW UP Clayton's car. Gawd, the movie sucked. It should've been called: "Michael Clayton Deals With His Dull Personal Problems But Saves The Day Because Tilda Swinton Plays The Dumbest Attorney Ever."
Dirty Harry on Oct 26, 2007
We thought this was a great movie - enough intrigue mixed wiht a conceivable story line and emotion to make it appealing to a broad audience. Movies can have predictable endings and still be great movies with terrific happenings. These days, the dramatization of "real life" can be just as intriguing as unrealistic endings!
Maryann on Oct 28, 2007
Didn't ANYONE notice that at the end of the movie, the cab driver (who we never see) drove off after picking Michael Clayton up without asking his destination for quite a while, which was unusual and then he didn't ask "where to?" which every cab driver always asks. Instead he said, "So what are we doing?". That's a very strange thing for a NYC cab driver to ask AND it could not be an accident that it was the identical question verbatim that one of the killers asks the other one when the see Michael Clayton going into Arthur's sealed apartment after his death. One says, "This gets more and more interesting." Then they see the light go on in the apartment and the other one asks, "So what are we doing?" A movie like this is in editing for months. Every frame, every cut, every piece of audio is reviewed over and over and over again. There is no chance that it was a cooincidence that they used the exact same expression. I think it was a "Soprano's" ending, leaving it a question mark for the viewer as to whether he gets killed or not.
Peter on Oct 28, 2007
No 15, it don't matter whether Michael gets killed at the end or not. He's already nailed the corporation on tape. His input from here on is redundant.
Loved it on Oct 29, 2007
Yes but the killers were not upstairs, they didn't know that he nailed her on tape. Don't you think it's very odd that the cab driver we never see asks him, "So what are we doing?" instead of "where to?" especially since one of the killers used that exact expression, "So what are we doing?" earlier in the movie?
Peter on Oct 29, 2007
His cab was being tailed by another cab.
John on Nov 6, 2007
I want my money back. This movie was just terrible. You know what, I take that back... Keep my money because I don't want a whore's money. I want to spit on everyone who supports, developed, and has seen this movie or even wants to. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be shot... I'm contemplating on finding out. This movie makes me want to take a gun and put it to my head and pull the trigger. Or maybe Michael Clayton could after a bunch of scenes that don't add up to anything. But don't worry, he'll end up here anyways. He always knows where he's supposed to be even though no one else does. Other than that, the movie sucked.
Derek on Nov 10, 2007
To post number #15: Do you support the movie "9/11 Press For Truth"... Because only a nonsensical mind like your own would devise a plan like that to say WHAT ARE YOU DOING and put a bomb on the cab driver. Racist.
Mr. Brooks on Nov 11, 2007
hey derek....whats your idea, or an example of a good movie? after you tell me i expect you to make shoot yourself
bloodywig on Jan 6, 2008
Movie sucked.............ending sucked......... I'd get more satisfaction out of a lifetime movie with Delta Burke in it!!!!!! Clooney is OVERATED!!
dannygirl on Feb 24, 2008
Get out the pajamas baby...coz this flick is an absolute SNOOZEFEST. Boring to the core. The only good thing in this HIGHLY over rated film is Tom Wilkinson.
enGAYge on Mar 1, 2008
I saw that movie and it sucked. Not worth my money not worth my time i should have seen the hannah montana movie instead at least its in 3d. God micheal clayton was stupid. highly suggest not seeing it.
Shaggie on Mar 9, 2008
I agree totally--this is a brilliantly editing, cut and put together film and story. One has to be BRIGHT, ALERT, and intrigued by subtlety to dig this film, so all you dimwits out there--don't even bother with this film! I think that the cab following his cab at the end is going to get Clayton--he's driving as far as 50 bucks will take him, which is far enough to be wasted. I also think that the guy at the end that he gives the tape to is one of the guys who was trying to get rid of him. Tell me if I'm wrong about that. Thanks for the intelligent commentary. I wish some of the comments (23 and 24) weren't so annoyingly vacuous.
laura on Apr 1, 2008
Clayton was a great judge of character. He could READ people--that was the 'gift' that Marty was referring to. So it makes sense that he knew Karen could be bought: She was a narcissistic insecure woman for whom nothing mattered above her sense of stature and power in a man's world. Clayton knew that. He could size her up in the time he was with her at the restaurant. Also, I think he was at the interview meeting, wasn't he? When she was giving her shpiel to use the Firm? Furthermore, she had more to lose--personally--than anyone in the story (even Marty) if the case was lost. SHE was the special counsel for U North. So if THEY lost, SHE lost. Clatyon knew that. It's not that hard to figure out--and it's established that he can read and understand what makes people tick.
laura on Apr 1, 2008
Heaven only knows what could be a better movie than Michael Clayton. I saw No Country for Old Men, which was very well done, but MC was much better (just my opinion). MC is perfection in motion picture form. The first time I watched the movie, I was like "holy sh*t. what just happened?" The second time I watched the movie, I paid more attention, and I was like "wow!" The third time I watched the movie, I let out a cry of "YES!" with every line Michael Clayton had and every facial grimace of Karen Crowder. And similar reactions every time thereafter. The ending alone is worth the $34.99 Blu-ray version, not even to mention the ridiculously amazing symbolism in the horses. Whatever Tony Gilroy's next movie is, I'm going to the midnight showing on premiere night. Has anyone else noticed the trend of MC fans referring to characters' names, whereas MC haters referring to actor's names?
Sam on Apr 13, 2008
it's even better than the Ultimate Suspect with spacy ! Very good call
golan on May 9, 2008
For all you people who think that the supposed cab "following him" was going to kill him, that's just your hopeful imaginations getting ahead of yourselves. The ending was meant to be a time of quiet reflection, just thinking of what's happened to him. No, he ain't gonna be wasted by that cab, they only took about 2 turns! I think it's very possible that it's taking the same route. Also, the ending sucked, I mean, it was just awful. I felt completely indifferent towards it, just didn't really leave me feeling impressed or climaxed at all. And as for Wilkinson's role, seems that he was just pushing out meaningless philosophical bullshit for the entirety of his role.
Mark on May 10, 2008
Seems to me that the ending, being atypical, with the credits running as we watch Micky do anything BUT quietly reflect, is drawn out in it's way, to remind us what we're up against when we tangle with the devil, corporate capitalism.Of course the cab driver was one of the assassins and he was responding to the other in the cab following behind, as peter wrote above. Interesting reading the many different takes on the film. Even if I'm just projecting ( didn't leave me feeling climaxed, Really), like it seems so many others do, then my message is an old one - this is what happens when you sell your soul. Not a bad thought to be left with. I mean Clooney's character got blown up the last time he tried to save someone in a movie with his buddy Soderbergh right. He's plays a good guy yes, who has made so many bad choices already in his life. Did you see the skit on Saturday Night Live, years ago where Paul Simon, after having sold his soul to the devil to achieve fame and fortune, is left in his own private hell of forever riding an elevator with a musak version of Sounds of Silence playing. Grow your own vegetables humans. Sell your stock in ADM or Monsanto and give your share of Google to your local homeless shelter.
the real gut truster on Jun 2, 2008
I have a few issues. First, I agree that it seems ridiculous that these assassins who use a needle between the toes on Arthur would blow up Clayton's car. Second, how does the burned body disappear from the car? It's not like the body vaporizes. Police identify burned corpses by dental records and such. Poorly though out at best. Then we get to the ending. Karen comes out of the shareholder's meeting and clearly is surprised at the idea of Clayton still being alive. This leaves the viewer to believe that nobody in the corporation knew he was still alive. How would the assassins know he's still alive and not tell Karen. The idea of the cab driver being the assassin from earlier is far-fetched at best. I think 29 is more correct in that the cab is a time of winding down in the movie. It's the part of the book after the climax where the reader (or in this case, the viewer) is given a chance to reflect on what just happened. While in this case, it allowed a more decorative way to roll some credits. The movie could have stopped as Clayton left the camera's view on the escalator and I would have been more impressed.
skeptic on Jun 20, 2008
Continuing on what 31 said, if Karen thought Clayton was dead, so would have the assassins. And how is it that the assassins miraculously perfectly time when Clayton leaves the building and gets in their cab??
manny on Dec 1, 2008
Why were the escalators going the wrong way?
Patric on Dec 2, 2008
Why did he play the hands of poker? What was the point of all that?
pt on Dec 29, 2008
Wow. I can't believe people don't like the film. They must just not understand it. Whatever. As for the cab, they'd never know he was leaving the buidling at that time. As for the car bomb idea, it had to be different from the way they killed Arthur. And MC never went home that night. how else would they do it? They had to kill him before he delivered the memo. The film was absolutely awesome.
Mike on Aug 4, 2009
Why did Michael turn the car around after visiting the hit-and-run client? He then made a left and went down a dirt road and came upon the horses on the hill . . . why did he get out of the car and go up to visit them instead of looking at them from where he pulled over? I know a drawing of this vision was in the book Arthur (and his son) was reading, but these two actions (turning his car around and getting out of his car to get closer to the horses) seem contrived in order that he not be in the car when the bad guys detonate the bomb. Any theories from anyone out there???
Jay on Aug 3, 2010
This is my Netflix review of the film "Michael Clayton." I do realize that I am jumping on this film kind of late, but that is the beauty of DVD's! OK...... It's not that I think this was a bad movie, I just don't think it was a great one either... It was OK.... I do think this movie could have been a really spectacular, but it almost seemed to become its own worst enemy as it progressed. Why, the simple things that held against the complicated things. A story that seemed to have intertwining stories that were either unnecessary, or uninteresting, or unfinished. There was also the technical issues I had problems with... Here we have "Arthur," the newly discovered hero within himself and he was killed with precision and timing of a Mossad agent! However, when it came to "Clayton" the "assassins" settled for a car bomb??? A serious "WTF" moment for me! And it's not that a car bomb is not a complicated device that takes years of training to hone and develop -especially in under sixty-seconds, but because wasn't the idea to keep everything within the realms of "accidental" as to not arouse suspicion? How does a car bomb keep things on the "down-low?" Yes, I will admit that I am a bit of as cynic, but a hole like this is simply too big to jump over and continue walking as if it's not there! Now, the "spectacular" ending everyone seems to be praising was OK, but far from "one of the best ever!" The only reason I think the ending received so much praise was because it embodied what many audiences want to see more times than not. We want to see the bad guy (or gal as in this case) get screwed really good! We want the offender to suffer and we want to see the look of defeat in their faces when it does come. We want to see that look so much that when it does finally show up we want to stop and take a picture of it! We will root for the "anti" hero on many occasions and we often look for "street" justice rather than legal justice, which always seems to fall short and never quite delivers. I remember watching a film called "Law Abiding Citizen" some time ago and I thought it was great up until the end. Throughout the film they were trying to capture this guy that was claiming revenge for the brutal murder of his family. The killer was brilliant in his plot to hold those responsible for the killings that took his family years earlier. In my opinion, and those that saw the film with me, the killer was the hero and when he died at the end, and not cleverly I might add, it was awful! Why because this is what we want as an audience and that's what "Michael Clayton" delivered, at least for a brief second at the end, the street justice we crave and why people thought it was "great." In the end, this ending could also be view being about numbers. When a movie of this caliber opens, Hollywood will look at the the first weekend's tallies and those numbers will usually determine whether a sequel is in order. Films are no longer made with the integrity of the story, but whether it is strong enough to produce a franchise. This film left an opening at the end that could have simply gone either way. Sure, the cab driver, which is never visible, utters a a phrase, which is heard being said by one of the killers earlier.... Sure, there is a "suspicious" cab which is following Clayton's cab, so that also provokes thought. None of these examples ensure anything, but it does guarantee the studio the flexibility needed to either make, or not make a sequel. Personally, I felt it was a very "Sopranos" type ending.
ASoto on Feb 19, 2011
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