Business Ethics and Dilemmas in the Film “Michael Clayton”

A Critique of the Dilemmas Presented

The movie “Michael Clayton” addresses a wide range of ethical issues faced by corporations and advocates. The movie highlights how situational factors, corporate cultures, and professional business environment can be viewed from different perspectives. It offers an optimistic account of the moral resources that managers and entrepreneurs can draw from to avert unethical conduct (Michael Clayton). One of the ethical issues addressed entails the impacts of capitalism on morality.

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At times, the desire to make money surpasses the moral considerations of the actors. A case in point is the counselor who suffers a nervous breakdown trying to defend a corporation that he knows is on the wrong (Michael Clayton). Besides, the movie illustrates the work environment and its influence on individual liberty. Employees have to strike a balance between personal ethics and what the organization expects of them.

How the Business World is portrayed in “Michael Clayton”

The film ‘Michael Clayton’ portrays businesses in both positive and negative light. For example, companies are regarded as important elements needed to solve the problems facing society (“Synopsis for Michael Clayton (2007)” par. 9). The film focuses on U-North. The company has come up with a weed killer aimed at improving agricultural production. Its activities are regarded highly in the film. On its part, Marty Bach’s law firm offers legal counsel to its clients. Bach is concerned that losing the case against U-North may harm the firm (“Synopsis for Michael Clayton (2007)” par. 17). As such, he is doing everything to make sure his client wins the lawsuit.

With regards to negative publicity in the film, corporate executives are portrayed as corrupt persons. The U-North company is described as an entity that is more interested in profits than in the health of the public (“Synopsis for Michael Clayton (2007)” par. 19). It produces a weed killer that has negative impacts on public health. The executives are aware of the health risks associated with the product. However, they continue engaging in production.

Crowder, one of the administrators, does his best to ensure that the civil lawsuit against U-North about the manufacture of the hazardous product fails. The business world is also portrayed as unjust. To protect the company, Crowder arranges to murder Eden (“Synopsis for Michael Clayton (2007)” par. 18). The latter is the company’s former defense attorney. Crowder fears that the counsel may expose the illegal activities of the firm (Michael Clayton 25.15).

The corporate sector is also portrayed as being neutral at times. For example, Clayton avoids taking sides in a legal dispute. He tries to do what he considers to be right. He appears to defend U- North in his argument with Eden. He reminds him that he has a responsibility to the law firm. At the time, he is unaware of the fact that the allegations leveled against the company are true. When he learns the truth about U-North’s manufacture of a lethal substance, he decides to make sure that the company loses the suit (Michael Clayton 37.22).

The Business Ethics Dilemmas addressed in “Michael Clayton”

The first ethical issue involves Clayton’s debts to gamblers. He applies for a loan from the firm to pay his debtors. The issue becomes a business matter when he is prompted to sign a three-year contract that binds him to the firm to get the money. He is sworn to secrecy regarding past and future events. Clayton is in a dilemma whether to resign from the job he is not satisfied with or to observe the terms of the contract. In frustration, he describes his job by stating that “I ‘am a janitor” (Michael Clayton 15.00).

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However, he has financial problems. His debts tie him to the firm. He is unable to resolve the unethical issue. To deal with the problem, he should have resigned from the job and deal with the legal repercussions later. The reason is that the decision to stay put does not solve any of his problems. His conscience will continue to bother him.

Another ethical dilemma is portrayed through Eden. He tries to safeguard the secrets of his colleagues. However, when he discovers that U-North is guilty of the production of dangerous chemicals, he changes his mind. However, his decision is plagued by several ethical quandaries. On one hand, he has to remain loyal to his employer. On the other hand, he feels the need to protect the community. Finally, he decides to go with the interests of the public. At one point, he tells Michael that “you should go see Anna and you too will feel stimulated to stop trying to help U-North in perpetuating their lies” (Michael Clayton 25.00). He successfully resolved the ethical dilemma he was facing.

When Michael learns about Arthur’s death, he starts investigating to find out whether or not U-North was involved. He discovers that Karen participated in Arthur’s murder (“Synopsis for Michael Clayton (2007)” par. 20). Karen is willing to buy Clayton’s silence. He tells her, “either pay up or I will go public with the report” (Michael Clayton 50.00). He asks her to pay 10 million. Clayton faces an ethical dilemma when trying to make the right decision.

He does not know whether to take the money or to do the right thing and report the matter. However, his ‘good’ side prevails. He records Karen when she tries to bribe him with the money. The conversation was recorded with the help of Ray using a phone. Clayton asks his brother, Ray, “Did you get all that?” (Michael Clayton 57.00). Clayton successfully resolves his ethical dilemma.

Works Cited

Michael Clayton. Ex. Prods. Sydney Pollack, Steven Samuels, Jennifer Fox, and Kerry Orient. New York: Castle Rock Entertainment. 2007. DVD.

Synopsis for Michael Clayton (2007). 2012. Web.

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"Business Ethics and Dilemmas in the Film "Michael Clayton"." StudyCorgi, 5 May 2021,

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StudyCorgi. "Business Ethics and Dilemmas in the Film "Michael Clayton"." May 5, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Business Ethics and Dilemmas in the Film "Michael Clayton"." May 5, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Business Ethics and Dilemmas in the Film "Michael Clayton"'. 5 May.

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