The writer of the Matt Damon-starring '...Bourne' trilogy, and also the upcoming Brad Pitt-Edward Norton political thriller 'State of Play', Tony Gilroy steps behind the lens for the first time for 'Michael Clayton', one of the year's more satisfying thrillers.

Clayton (Clooney) is a fixer for one of New York's biggest legal firms, Kenner, Bach & Ledeen. When high profile or corporate clients do something they shouldn't, Clayton is the man who steps in to clean up the mess.

It's a very well-paid job but Clayton wants out; trouble is he can't. A gambler, he's seen his dream of owning a restaurant go down the drain - not because of his own love of the tables but due to the antics of his wastrel brother. Now Clayton's debts and obligations are so much that he has to stay with his paymasters. Loyalty, however, is never an issue.

Clayton's problems get even bigger when one of his colleagues, the brilliant litigator Arthur Edens (Wilkinson), loses the plot during a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit involving the agricultural giant U/North.

Clayton is sent to Milwaukee to placate U/North's head counsel Karen Crowder (Swinton), babysit Arthur and bring him back to New York. But what begins as yet another crisis PR job for Clayton becomes far more sinister - very, very quickly.

When talking about 'Wall Street' on BBC Two's 'I Love 1988' programme, Martin Sheen spoke of how people lose their soul in increments, and 'Michael Clayton' does a very good job of showing this side of the corporate world.

Directing from his own script, Gilroy takes the energy of his '...Bourne' scripts and transfers it to the boardrooms and high rises of New York.

The story begins with Clayton getting the fright of his life and then goes back to the events which have brought him to this point. Unusually, for a thriller these days, you're never sure quite how it's going to turn out.

While the character of Clayton (hangdog look, economical with words) is no huge dramatic stretch for Clooney, he does a good job of playing a man who wants out of the life he has created. He's ably supported by Wilkinson as his colleague, Pollack as his boss and Swinton as the corporate string-puller, a truly chilling villain.

An excellent debut for Gilroy and a film that ranks with Clooney's best.

Harry Guerin