George Clooney: Beyond the Bat-nipples

on Fri, 10/28/2011 - 09:00
With The Ides of March in cinemas today, Mark takes a trundle through George Clooney's CV, noting the highs and lows of his journey to the A list
Of the actors who've played Batman on the big screen, George Clooney is the only one who's gone onto bigger and better things after hanging up the cape. Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer never quite surpassed the blockbuster status attached to their renditions of the Caped Crusader, and Adam West, despite his popularity with fans of Family Guy, is more a cult icon than a mega-star.
Then again, seeing as how Clooney had to hang up a much-maligned pair of Bat-nipples too, you could argue that he had nowhere to go but up post-Batman. Crucially, Clooney has redefined himself as one of the most distinguished directors working today, somehow always able to traverse between personal projects and mainstream fare without ever repeating the mistakes of his early filmography.
As his new film The Ides of March arrives in cinemas (read our review here), we look back at George Clooney's rise and rise in the world of film, and wonder if he's going to follow his character's lead and run for President of the United States...
Breakthrough role
Having found stardom as Dr. Doug Ross in the long-running ER, Clooney broke through into films with From Dusk till Dawn in 1996. Robert Rodriguez's genre-hybrid horror starred Clooney and Quentin Tarantino as the Gecko brothers, a pair of bank robbers who wind up hijacking a pastor and his family and making a detour at a strip joint that happens to be staffed by the damned.
The film received a mixed critical reception on release, but it's since accumulated a lot of popularity on video and DVD. Clooney himself won Best Actor at the Saturn Awards, and also the prestigious MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance, the same year as Godzilla won the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The film also established Clooney as one of the actors that Rodriguez likes to re-use in his films, leading to less auspicious roles in Spy Kids and Spy Kids 3D- Game Over. More pertinently, however,  he would go on to establish working relationships with Steven Soderbergh and the Coen brothers.
Out of his comfort zone
Joel and Ethan Coen seem to love casting George Clooney as stupid characters. They've really opened up Clooney's range as an old-timey screwball comedy star in the vein of Cary Grant, in films such as the criminally underrated Intolerable Cruelty, and Burn After Reading.
However, their creative partnership with Clooney began with O Brother Where Art Thou, a re-telling of the Odyssey, relocated to Mississippi in the 1930s. He plays Ulysses Everett McGill, who escapes from a chain gang with two brothers and tries to get home before his wife remarries.
As seen in later films, Everett was the role that really took Clooney out of his typecasting as a smooth-operating ladies' man, which pretty much seems like his real life persona too. Even outside of the Coens' work, he went on to star in The Men Who Stare At Goats and his own Leatherheads.
Punch-the-air moment
Later on, Clooney would begin to direct films too, with his latest being The Ides of March. The film shows off his keen directorial instincts, and his uncanny ability for framing important shots, but perhaps it's not his best film overall. That would still go to Good Night and Good Luck, a film that devastatingly delivers a rational political message that hasn't been topical for about 50 years.
Good Night and Good Luckis a biopic of sorts, chronicling the feud between CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Set during the height of McCarthyism, with Communist witch-hunting going on all around America, David Strathairn plays Murrow, who pits himself against the damn foolishness surrounding the Un-American Activities Committee.
The main thing that is has in common with The Ides of March is that it doesn't have a political leaning per se, even in spite of Clooney's own ideology. Murrow is rational, and the film retells a victory for rationalism against McCarthyism. However, test audiences reportedly complained that the actor playing McCarthy was a little over-the-top, little realising that the film effectively cast McCarthy as himself, by only using actual footage of the senator's rantings.
Would rather forget
There can only be one, really. In the train-wreck that was Batman and Robin, Clooney was less dark than any Dark Knight since Adam West. Luckily for him, it can certainly be argued that he was the least of the film's problems.
There was the woeful miscasting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, (billed above Clooney himself) Uma Thurman's awful performance as Poison Ivy, and an awful script that traded in puns rather than rhyme or reason. Clooney even makes a pretty convincing Bruce Wayne, except for the fact that he seems to smirk even while Alfred the butler, his father figure, suffers from a terminal disease.
In the vein of filmmakers coming out and apologising for their worst films, Clooney has recently spoken about Batman and Robin while doing the press rounds for The Ides of March. He told Total Film, "Batman is still the biggest break I ever had and it completely changed my career, even if it was weak and I was weak in it... It was a difficult film to be good in.”
Next up
For the performances of its cast alone, The Ides of March is sure to pick up momentum during Oscar season, if not for Clooney's direction, or the script. Generally, analysts seem to think he'll receive more attention for his role in front of the camera in Alexander Payne's new movie, The Descendants, which arrives in UK cinemas in January.
He also has a cameo role in The Muppets, in the grand tradition of A-list actors appearing on the big screen alongside Kermit and company. However, his collaboration with Alfonso Cuarón could be even more exciting. He's starring alongside Sandra Bullock in the Mexican auteur's first film since 2006's Children of Men, a 3D sci-fi drama called Gravity, also due in cinemas next year.
It's unclear as to what George Clooney's next project as a director will be, but it remains clear that he's a force to be reckoned with, creatively and commercially. There are so few personalities in Hollywood who can flip between the “one for them, one for me” career model as effortlessly as Clooney, which should keep him working for years to come.
By Mark Harrison