Gravity is smashing it at the box office so what better time to reflect on the career of everyone’s favourite silver fox
Actors seem to become directors and producers at an alarming rate these days. Normally this is because they want more creative control over the pictures they star in, or to cash in on thier own celebrity. Take Tom Cruise for example, who through his production company Cruise/Wagner and United Artists can essentially create and star in anything he damn well pleases. Or Adam Sandler, who also, somehow, still makes movies.
George Clooney is another of these seemingly unstoppable actor/producer hybrids. But there’s another layer of interest with Clooney, in that he uses this immense influence within Hollywood to create not just offbeat films but also excellent, thoughtful ones. With Gravity blowing away all box office competition and looking a cut above anything released this summer, George Clooney appears to have all but secured a place among the modern era’s ‘great’ film minds. Christopher Nolan may have directed The Dark Night, but could he also play Batman? No. No he could not.
So in the wake of his starring role in Gravity, let’s take a moment to consider Clooney’s past achievements and filmography. Because it’s time we admitted, once and for all, that this one-time ER actor is one of the most talented people in Hollywood.
In his early career Clooney did his time climbing the sordid TV ladder, taking extra and supporting roles in a variety of shows that are today largely unheard of – perhaps with the exception of Roseanne. He ‘broke through’ into big-time TV acting in 1994 with a significant role in NBC’s ER, back when formulaic hospital dramas were still an actual thing (House aside). It seems almost absurd now that George Clooney started out on ER, and unsurprisingly his acting abilities were widely recognised, earning him nominations for both Emmys and Golden Globes.
It is at this point that most actors would be satisfied. Speak to anyone a year out of drama school and they’ll tell you how ecstatic they would be to have a long-term TV job, let alone high-profile award nominations. But Clooney pushed on to win Hollywood roles including a part Rodriguez’s now-iconic From Dusk till Dawn and, just a year later, Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Yeah… that Batman film. But whatever criticisms our superhero-happy generation want to level at the movie, it was a big title that put Clooney in a lead role alongside known quantity Arnold Schwarzenegger and an up-and-coming Uma Thurman.
In 1999 Clooney left ER and from that point onward, his Hollywood career exploded. Roles in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Perfect Storm the following year were followed by co-founding Section Eight Productions with Steven Soderbergh in 2001. It was as Section Eight that Clooney and Soderbergh tackled Oceans Eleven; the smash-hit remake that tipped Clooney over the fame precipice and into mega-stardom. Over the next decade two Oceans sequels were to follow, both starring Clooney. Not to mention a host of other popular and award-winning 00’s titles, including (personal favourite) Solaris, Good Night and Good Luck, Michael Clayton, Burn after Reading, Up in the Air and The Men Who Stare at Goats.
But equally as important for Clooney’s monumental rise was that, as a part of Section Eight, he was also able to explore directing and producing. His directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind received a generally positive critical response, but it was Clooney’s 2005 follow up Good Night, and Good Luck which he co-wrote, directed and acted in, that really exposed his considerable talent for moviemaking. Good Night, and Good Luck is critically acclaimed and received six Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture, Director) and and equal number of BAFTA nominations among a host of others. According to Rotton Tomatoes, it was the best reviewed limited-release film of 2005, with a 93% positive review rate. To put that in perspective; modern masterpiece The Dark Knight has a rating of 94% positive and God-damn Star Wars only equals it at 93%.
Clooney admittedly lost some of that form with 2008’s Leatherheads, but then, Inception was no Dark Knight either. He waited until 2011 to return to directing with the fantastic The Ides of March (which he also produced and co-wrote), and since then has produced Argo, starred in The Descendants and now, of course, Gravity.
From humble beginnings acting in television, Clooney’s rise has been meteoric. Best of all though, this is clearly not a man who wastes his time on the ‘big dumb blockbuster’ school of Hollywood filmmaking. Whenever he lends talent or finance to a project, it seems destined to be thrilling or thought-provoking, but above all intelligent material.
When I was still a fresh-face student, a friend of mine studying Film and TV Production once called Christopher Nolan the ‘real deal’, comparing him to a modern-day Hitchcock. That Nolan can make excellent blockbusters is a given, but Hitchcock? No. Not even close. For me, it’s George Clooney, not Nolan, who in twenty years time we will look back on and call the ‘real deal’. He’s not Hitchcock, but shit, he is George Clooney.
Image: Warner Bros, inset image: NBC