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Michael Clayton

Screenwriter: Tony Gilroy

Distrib/release date: Warner Bros./Oct. 5

Storyline: Burned-out attorney Michael Clayton is an inhouse fixer who faces the biggest challenge of his career and his life when his colleague, Arthur Edens, sabotages a class-action lawsuit that Clayton’s firm is leading. Former New York bartender and songwriter Gilroy wanted to reveal the dramatic, behind-the-scenes maneuvering at a big New York law firm defending a huge class-action suit 24/7 — not the usual front-of-courtroom pyrotechnics.

About the script: After becoming one of the go-to guys in the biz for scripts and polishes with such pics as “Devil’s Advocate,” “Dolores Claiborne” and the Bourne series, Gilroy was determined to make his directing debut with “Michael Clayton.” This meant waiting years to get independent financing and luring the right star, George Clooney. “The only reason this movie exists is because of George, who was willing to take his salary completely at the back end.”

Biggest challenge: “I wanted to try to put as much muscularity and urgency into it as possible so that it would pass muster as a gripping yarn. It’s hard to figure out a unifying experience for the audience, which is fragmenting in so many different directions, subsets and subgroups. The resolution is to make movies in a cheaper way.”

Breakthrough idea: “I started writing the opening monologue early on in the process; I was revealing plot through dialogue. I wanted to let you know that it was OK to pay attention and OK if you don’t understand everything. I’m taking you on this journey. You don’t know what it is, but if you trust me, I’ll push the cart to the end.”

Choice lines: “You are the senior litigating partner at one of the largest law firms in the world. You are a legend.” “I’m an accomplice.” “You are a manic depressive.” “I am Shiva, the god of death.”

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