This is the second in a two part profile of actor George Clooney. Read Part One.
There are movie stars and then there is George Clooney. The man is the epitome of old style charm and charisma and he has been compared to Cary Grant on so many occasions that it would be superfluous to do so here. I’m going to take a look at his (sometimes controversial) career in order to have an overview of his work as a director, producer and Oscar-winning actor.
Good Night, and Good Luck was Clooney’s second film as director, following the critically acclaimed, but little seen Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Both films have a low key aesthetic with impressive casts. While Dangerous Mind failed to connect with audiences, Good Night, and Good Luck reached a larger audience and struck a chord with critics and audiences. Although the film was only a modest hit, it broke out of its niche market despite its black and white visuals and McCarthy-era setting. Wearing his political views on his sleeve once more, Good Night, and Good Luck offered audiences a thought-provoking and weighty look at America in the 1950s and showed that intelligent cinema could still be made in a time where special effects and pyrotechnics are the norm. Clooney’s third directorial effort was more of a lightweight effort. The 1930s set Leatherheads may lack the political gravitas of his other films, but it is no less skilled in capturing a filmmaking style of a cinematic era long gone. Living up to his new Cary Grant reputation, Clooney co-starred in the comedy alongside Renee Zellweger in the “battle of the sexes” sporting screwball comedy. While the film may not have been a complete success either commercially or artistically, it again shows that Clooney is attempting to try and infuse filmmaking today with some old school charm.
The last several years have seen Clooney shift between comedy and drama with the likes of Michael Clayton (another film with a heavy debt to 1970s Hollywood), Up In The Air and The Men Who Stare at Goats. Both Michael Clayton and Up In The Air were nominated for Oscars and they both straddled the line between art and commerce, with the economic dramedy Up In The Air ironically being the most successful financially. The Men who Stare at Goats was a noble failure – a MASH style comedy showing the ridiculousness of war. The film from Clooney’s new production unit, Smokehouse (run alongside director and friend Grant Heslov), was hindered by its episodic nature, an intrinsic flaw that it inherited from Jon Ronson’s book, although the cast which also stars Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey are clearly relishing the material.
The American again shows Clooney attacking material, that has the potential to be clichéd, from a new angle. Control director Anton Corbjin has taken the hit-man about to carry out one last job tale and infused it with a European flavor. The Italian setting and stark story telling has had some critics liken it to the work of Michelangelo Antonioni, which again illustrates Clooney’s dedication to preserving the style of the golden period of cinema in the 60s and 70s.
Recently, The Ides of March and The Descendants again show that Clooney is always willing to push his image to breaking point. The former shows his deep interest in the political arena, one told with the usual nod towards 70s cinema. He’s not afraid to show the dark underbelly and corruption within political spectrum, turning his nice guy image on his head. The Descendants on the other hand, has a lighter touch, but it shows Clooney on “dress down” form, a far cry from his usual debonair image.
George Clooney’s cinematic output remains to be varied and he’s willing to push his star power to the extreme in order to bring changeling films to the screen. The actor’s work has been heavily inspired by the likes of directors such as Sidney Lumet, Nicholas Roeg, Mike Nichols and Alan J. Pakula – men who produced some of their greatest films in the late 60s and early 70s, and he has tried to match them for quality and social commentary. The films might not always connect with the public and critics, and they may alienate some due to their political leanings, but Clooney has to be given credit for attempting to offer audiences something different. As an actor, director, producer and writer he has been behind some of the most thought-provoking mainstream films of the last decade, and it looks like the 50 year-old has no intention of slowing or (dumbing) down his output.