Are you, like this writer, a George Clooney fan, I wonder? During the last month I happen to have seen a number of films in which he had a hand: Gravity, a stunning exercise in effects work at the service of a tense scenario and expertly calibrated star performance (Bullock’s); Argo, last year’s Oscar winner, on which he served as producer; Up in the Air, an exquisitely wry look at the jet set and our modern detached manner of dealing with people through corporate speak; and Ocean’s Twelve, to my mind the weakest of that loose trinity of caper films showcasing the Hollywood jet set at play.
Whatever he is in, though, one can rely on Clooney to deliver of his professional best. There is something for fans of both sexes here, the disarming smile, the cocked head, the eyes more soulful when the face is in repose, but also the voice, a reassuring bass, carrying authority and reassurance in equal measure, but capable of derisiveness when required. Men want to be him, women just want him. The Ocean films are revealing in their way, in that they group together three actors, each hot properties of our time, of whom Matt Damon has no charisma to speak of, Brad Pitt has oodles of charisma, but little technique, and Clooney, who has both. He is that old-time movie star you could count on to be a version of himself, or at least of that which you thought him to be, and there was never a problem telling what they were saying: Fonda, Wayne, Mitchum, Grant, and so on; he is more often than not compared to the latter because, like Grant, he is good at ‘light’. Clooney is the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind meeting and sharing a drink with, because you sense he would have something interesting to say.
Clooney’s background in entertainment (his father, Nick, was a TV gameshow host, his aunt Rosemary a singer) has given him a long-term engagement with the behind-the-scenes of the entertainment industry, hence his 29 producer credits and 6 director credits, but his acting career in films was slow to get started. He spent a decade in television before Robert Rodriguez cast him, at the age of 35, in From Dusk Till Dawn. It was the most uncharacteristic of debuts, playing a badman, but Clooney’s bank robber was notably more moderate than his fanatically violent brother, played according to type by Quentin Tarantino, and he walked away at the end, which is anointment of sorts.
From then it seemed as though he was going to be saddled with undemanding action fare (Batman & Robin, The Peacemaker), until he fell in with Steven Soderbergh and made Out of Sight, playing a charming bank robber. It was a mutually smart move, heralding some adventurous projects (Solaris, The Good German) as well as the three Ocean films, and it helped establish Clooney’s reputation as a risk taker, ready to make some intelligent movies, and bankroll them with some less so. At the same time he partnered with the Coen Brothers, and made two films showcasing a more manic side of his acting personality: O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Burn after Reading.
Clooney has, over the past decade, given us such thoughtful pictures as Good Night and Good Luck, Syriana, Michael Clayton, The Ides of March, and The Descendants, many of which he helped make possible, like Argo. He reminds one of Burt Lancaster, or Robert Redford, in this respect, both of whom strove to make entertaining but serious, ‘public interest’, projects, and struck up working relationships with like-minded directors John Frankenheimer and Sydney Pollack respectively. With two of these three men still at work in Hollywood, it is reassuring to see intelligence guiding at least some of the creative decisions being made there today.