The Ridiculousness of Michael Clayton

I watched Michael Clayton last night with several friends. Really enjoyed it. Good writing, acting and just generally enjoyable. Too bad the story was something out of fantasy-land. Oh, also, the ending was lame.

Spoilers below.

I’m constantly amazed at how misunderstood the modern corporation is. I don’t mean that in a touchy-feely way, but in a real, straightforward way: people just don’t seem to understand how decisions are made, why they’re made and how things are dealt with.

Other people have done much better jobs of describing the movie itself, but basically there’s George Clooney, playing an in-house “fixer” at a large law firm, there’re the partners at the firm, and there’s the evil corporation doing evil things that the firm is defending. Apparently the evil corporation sold something that resulted in a number of deaths and is now the target of a large class-action lawsuit. Some evidence comes out that threatens to derail their defense, so the company has the people involved killed.

All very fun and evil and cinematic. But so so sooo unrealistic. The truth is that in the situation, a company would most likely just settle with the plaintiffs and try to move past it as quickly as possible. Perhaps just as “evil,” but evil in a completely different way than many people ascribe to them. Evil in a mundane, boring, numbers-crunching way. Not in a personal way.

This seems to obvious to me, and I’m amazed at how many people think differently. It’s like people who are convinced that the oil companies wanted Bush to go into Iraq. That couldn’t be farther from the truth — an invasion of Iraq meant tons of risk for them, disrupting their supply chains, changing situations across the globe. Although they are doing fine now, they were also doing fine before the war. Rising oil prices can probably be largely attributed to increased consumption in China (though I don’t have numbers on it).

Anyway, these are moronic assumptions. If you want to know how a corporation will react, think of the reaction that has the lowest liability exposure and the least risk. That’s most likely what’ll happen.