The other George
He's suave and he votes.
By Cheryl Eddy
Right around this time last year, George Clooney's dashing mug was plastered everywhere, all for the good of Ocean's Twelve. Frankly, the man was coasting. Steven Soderbergh's sequel was pretty much the same movie as Ocean's Eleven, except set abroad. One could make the case that Twelve was an excuse for Clooney and cronies to get paid for taking an extended European vacation.
But in 2005, a different side of Clooney emerged at the multiplex. After a screening of his second directorial effort, Good Night, and Good Luck, a chronicle of news legend Edward R. Murrow's fight against McCarthyism, I overheard someone describing Clooney as if he were a superhero: "See, he uses his powers for good, not evil." (Just don't ask him to play a superhero. Thank goodness Batman Begins did so well; Clooney's been wearing the mark of a franchise-killer since Batman and Robin bombed in 1997.) His costarring role in the Middle East oil drama Syriana further clinched it: The former TV doctor has found his niche as a lefty megastar. Not only that, he's smart enough to push his politics through movies that people actually want to see.
Of course, a year ago he was just your average celebrity, albeit an outspoken Democrat who'd publicly feuded with Bill O'Reilly. Alongside Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, Clooney was an obvious target for Team America: World Police's skewering of self-righteous actor-activists. History will remember Team America for the puppet sex, but the movie's key political message wasn't that far removed from similar ideas conveyed by 2004's most high-profile political films, including Fahrenheit 9/11 and multiple Robert Greenwald docs. Basically, you could sum 'em all up like this: "George W. Bush fucking sucks." Clearly, plenty of people agreed Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed more than $100 million but box-office success didn't end up being enough to influence the election. Is it possible that audience members sat through Michael Moore's takedown of the war on terror and still decided to hand Bush another term in office? Or, more likely, were all those tickets bought by people who already knew they weren't voting Republican?
Whatever. When even the biggest documentary of all time (yep, the penguin army is still marching behind Fahrenheit) can't change enough minds to drive Bush out of the White House, it's time to find a new way cinematically speaking to present the argument. This is where Clooney comes in: Even as Syriana's bloated, bearded, burned-out CIA agent, he's still easier on the eyes than Moore. He's George Clooney, man dapper or not, even suspicious red-staters can't resist his charms. Writer-director Stephen Gaghan's movie isn't perfect, but at least it has the guts to poke around in the shadowy world of the global oil industry, revealing based-on-truth (and intrinsically linked) plotlines involving corporate players, government suits, Persian Gulf royalty, and suicide bombers.
But Good Night, and Good Luck is undoubtedly Clooney's greatest success of 2005. His directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, was flashy and fun, but Good Night is weightier and more technically sophisticated, and it weaves a (somewhat heavy-handed) plot using real news footage that, as Clooney himself has pointed out, does for today's political climate (national security, national fear, television stations focusing on fluff, etc.) what The Crucible did for the Red Scare which is in turn what Good Night is about, at least on the surface. Clooney also proves to be an actor who knows how to direct other actors, which is exemplified by David Strathairn's impeccable performance as Murrow.
And maybe, just maybe, someone who wouldn't go see a Moore movie would go see Good Night, and Good Luck. And then they'd start thinking about something other than what size popcorn to get at the concession stand. And maybe they'd pick up a newspaper, or read a book or a blog, or tune in to the news, and start questioning their own political beliefs. If the Clooney-verse keeps expanding, the way it did in 2005, it just might happen.
Cheryl Eddy's top 10 of 2005
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (Eric Zala, USA) at SF Indie Fest
2. Park Chanwook's "Vengeance Trilogy": Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Old-Boy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (South Korea)
3. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, USA)
4. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, USA)
5. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, USA)
6. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, USA)
7. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, USA)
8. Me and You and Everyone We Know (Miranda July, USA)
9. Horror toss-up: Land of the Dead (George A. Romero, Canada/France/USA) and The Devil's Rejects (Rob Zombie, USA/Germany)
10. King Kong (Peter Jackson, New Zealand/USA)