The Films of George Clooney
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (December 21/02)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind marks George Clooney's first attempt behind the camera, and though it has a certain amount of charm going for it, the movie's lack of cohesiveness ultimately prevents it from becoming more than a flashy exercise in style. Though the film - which follows Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) through his various misadventures as a game-show host and a covert spy - is technically well made and the acting about as good as it gets, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind nevertheless fails to ever capture interest beyond the superficial. It's impossible to make a genuine connection with any of the many characters, as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's hopelessly convoluted (and downright experimental) screenplay often sacrifices character development in favor of quirky storytelling. Not helping matters is Clooney's over-the-top directorial style, as the filmmaker throws in virtually every cinema trick that's ever been invented - which inevitably does detract from the admittedly thin narrative. Having said that, Clooney has assembled an impressive cast - with Rockwell, after years stealing scenes in supporting roles, finally coming into his own and proving he can carry a picture. As Barris' love interest Penny, Drew Barrymore gives an impressively complex performance that rarely relies on her cuteness to get by. Even Clooney himself, cast in a really small role as Barris' CIA handler, manages to turn this paper-thin character into someone we're intrigued by - it's just a shame that Kaufman's script doesn't allow for anything more than superficial development of side characters. Julia Roberts, as an enigmatic assassin named Patricia, is certainly the most obvious victim of that aspect of the screenplay. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind could've been a lot worse, but given the sort of talent that's behind and in front of the camera, it should've been a lot better. Clooney does hold a certain amount of promise as a director, provided he's willing to reign in his overeager sense of style. And here's hoping that the movie finally turns Sam Rockwell into a star.
Good Night, and Good Luck
Leatherheads (December 21/08)
Agreeable yet uneven, Leatherheads follows '20s-era football player Dodge Connelly (George Clooney) as he attempts to legitimize the sport by bringing in a hotshot college superstar (John Krasinski's Carter Rutherford). Complications ensue as Carter's heroic wartime antics are called into question by a tenacious female reporter (Renee Zellweger's Lexie Littleton), though it's her relationship with both men that inevitably threatens to tear the team apart. Director Clooney - working from a screenplay by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly - has infused Leatherheads with an unapologetically kooky atmosphere that proves effective at evoking the screwball efforts of the '30s and '40s, with the inclusion of several overtly ridiculous interludes (ie Dodge and Lexie knock out a pair of cops and steal their uniforms) reflecting the filmmaker's obvious desire to ape the feel and tone of an old-school comedy. And although Clooney and his various costars ably capture the broad acting style of their Golden-Age brethren, there's simply no denying that the movie ultimately suffers from an inconsistent narrative that's exacerbated by the 114 minute running time and laid-back pace. It subsequently goes without saying that the whole thing begins to seriously run out of steam once it passes the one-hour mark, as Brantley and Reilly have populated the third act with a series of decidedly non-comedic elements - with the subplot surrounding Carter's war record easily establishing itself as one of the film's more obviously needless threads. That being said, Leatherheads primarily comes off as an amiable throwback to the fast-talking endeavors of yesteryear and there's little doubt that it's the uniformly likeable performances that generally keep the proceedings afloat.
The Ides of March
Undoubtedly George Clooney's most accomplished directorial effort, The Ides of March details the behind-the-scenes turmoil of a political campaign as viewed through the eyes of a young but experienced strategist (Ryan Gosling's Stephen Meyers) - with the film inevitably exploring the betrayals and backstabbings that are part and parcel with the political world. For much of its first half, The Ides of March comes off as an entertaining yet far-from-engrossing drama that is, predictably, elevated by its performances - as Clooney has elicited stellar work from an impressive cast that includes, among others, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Evan Rachel Wood. (And this is to say nothing of Gosling's consistently mesmerizing turn as the movie's affable hero.) The watchable atmosphere, which benefits substantially from the periodic emphasis on sequences of a decidedly captivating variety, persists right up until around the one-hour mark, with the inclusion of an absolutely spellbinding scene in which Hoffman's character delivers a long speech about honesty triggering the movie's transformation from passable to enthralling. The progressively compelling atmosphere ensures that The Ides of March has, by the time it reaches its memorable conclusion, established itself as one of the most intriguing and flat-out engaging political dramas to come around in quite some time, with the protagonist's unexpectedly perilous journey ensuring that the film is often far more suspenseful than one might have initially anticipated.
The Monuments Men
Inspired by true events, The Monuments Men follows several soldiers (including George Clooney's Frank Stokes, Matt Damon's James Granger, and Bill Murray's Richard Campbell) as they embark on a secret mission to recover stolen works of art during the Second World War. It's a promising premise that's employed to disappointingly (and increasingly) underwhelming effect by filmmaker Clooney, as The Monuments Men, scripted by Clooney and Grant Heslov, suffers from a lack of cohesiveness that grows more and more problematic as time progresses - which is disappointing, to say the least, given the strength of the movie's opening half hour. Clooney has infused the proceedings with an unabashedly old-fashioned sensibility that is, at the outset, quite appealing, and it's certainly difficult to resist the charms of the impressively star-studded cast. The watchable atmosphere persists right up until The Monuments Men shuffles into its meandering midsection, with Clooney and Heslov's screenplay emphasizing the episodic exploits of the film's various characters to a less-than-engrossing degree. The narrative, past a certain point, just doesn't feel as though it's building towards something, with the movie instead offering up a series of stand-alone interludes that are, generally speaking, simply not all that interesting - which effectively ensures that great chunks of The Monuments Men are devoid of momentum or forward motion. It doesn't help, either, that many of the performers have been saddled with underdeveloped, one-dimensional characters, thus preventing the viewer from working up much interest in or sympathy for the protagonists' continuing endeavors. The end result is a terminally innocuous piece of work that flounders more than it excels, which is a shame, obviously, given the caliber of individuals both in front of and behind the camera.
George Clooney's best movie since The Ides of March, Suburbicon details the chaos that unfolds on a quiet residential street after a black family moves in - with the story quickly zeroing in on the violence that ensues within a seemingly normal household consisting of dad Gardner (Matt Damon), mom Rose (Julianne Moore), and son Nicky (Noah Jupe). It's interesting to note that although it eventually does become quite an engrossing picture, Suburbicon suffers from an opening stretch that resembles a fairly run-of-the-mill and generic domestic drama - with the somewhat erratic atmosphere compounded by Clooney's ongoing emphasis on the aforementioned racial tensions (ie there's a palpable needlessness to many of these scenes and, worse, the entire subplot ultimately feels a little didactic). The movie improves substantially once it essentially transforms into a progressively engrossing thriller, as Clooney delivers a screw-tightening midsection that's rife with standout, suspenseful sequences. (There is, for example, an entire bit involving Oscar Isaac's insurance adjuster that's nothing short of spellbinding.) And while the movie is continuously peppered with questionable elements (Alexandre Desplat's quirky score remains a distraction from start to finish, for one thing), Suburbicon benefits greatly from Clooney's solid direction and a raft of stellar performances - to the extent that the movie, in its final stretch, becomes far more gripping than one might've expected based on its so-so opening stretch. (The movie essentially justifies its very existence with a late-in-the-game scene involving a loaded conversation between Gardner and his terrified son.) The end result is a decidedly uneven effort that nevertheless boasts more positive elements than negative, and one can only hope that Clooney is, in light of a thoroughly up-and-down filmography, finally coming into his own as a director.