Rating: The Good – 64.3 Genre: Action, Thriller Duration: 124 mins Director: Mimi Leder Stars: George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Marcel Iures
Run of the mill action thriller by the 1990’s standards that still managed to distinguish itself with a couple of neatly staged and exhilarating set pieces and a classy performance from Nicole Kidman. George Clooney stars as a special forces colonel assigned to help Kidman’s civilian advisor locate and retrieve some stolen nuclear weapons before they can be used in a terrorist attack. Outside of a severely protracted opening, Mimi Leder sets a jaunty pace and Clooney and Kidman match that pep with a somewhat edgy dynamic that the latter very much controls. Clooney was still a head-bobbing up-and-comer but was on the verge of honing his screen presence and he quite professionally follows Kidman’s lead during the slower scenes while cutting a dashing action man during the more kinetic moments. Unfortunately, Michael Schiffer’s screenplay adapted from Andrew and Leslie Cockburn’s article “One Point Safe” is rather ordinary and beyond it serving the plot adequately it does little to build on the leading pair’s chemistry. The Peacemaker was the debut production for DreamWorks SKG so Leder found herself with a fair budget to play with and, for the most part, she spends it well. That said, a rather significant but cheaply attended subplot concerning an aggrieved Eastern European terrorist feels flimsy at best and more often intrudes on the more exciting manhunt narrative. More the pity because The Peacemaker solely succeeds as an action movie.
Steven Soderbergh and friends take a working holiday in Las Vegas for this entertaining reworking of the Rat Pack’s heist comedy. George Clooney fills Sinatra’s shoes as Danny Ocean, the recently paroled con-man who assembles a motley crew to take down Andy Garcia’s ruthless casino owner while simultaneously nabbing his ex-wife (Julia Roberts) back from his clutches. Brad Pitt is the Dean Martin sidekick while Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Carl Reiner, and Elliot Gould among a couple of others complete the rest of the gang. A party-mode Soderbergh unleashes every bit of his directorial panache to craft the entire affair into an interminably slick feast for the eyes and ears – with a production budget to match (not content with taking over actual casinos, they even staged a title fight between Wladimir Klitshcko and Lennox Lewis). Playing the coolest versions of themselves, the cast cruise their way through the complicated and very well executed heist in a manner befitting the project’s ambitions with David Holmes’ repetitive but impossibly suave compositions providing the most complementary soundtrack imaginable. If it sounds, like a “can’t-miss” type of movie, allay your excitement somewhat because, though eminently fun, its lack of depth ensures that it’s a little cold. In the final analysis, Ocean’s Eleven is what you get when a bunch of talented movie guys spitball a movie concept around a poker table at 3 am. Lots of well conceived but ultimately stand alone moments in desperate need of some serious screenwriting to bind them together.
For a film that boasts lots of stars and acting talent, Syriana is a rather more unorthodox thriller than we might expect. Set amid the world of oil trading and based on Robert Baer’s book, it follows Amirs, petroleum executives, senators, high profile lawyers, terrorists, and CIA agents as they engage each other in a global chess match where the tool is geographical instability and the prize is power. The result is a collage of intersecting plots that thrill on a variety of dramatic levels. Political machinations, corporate intrigue, religious extremism, cultural ambition, and personal tribulation all bound together with coherence and momentum.
An ambitious project to be sure but one that succeeds due to a tight script and intelligent directing which combine to give a story of such scale much focus while, at all times, giving the audience the benefit of the doubt. Nothing is spoon-fed here as every deal, negotiation, and conversation is veiled and approached at an angle. Much is left for the audience to work out, a tactic that encourages them to invest in the story. But what really defines Stephen Gaghan’s film is its overarching sense of realism. The plot is allowed to increment forward in a manner where little looks to be happening but where a lot feels like it is. A triumph of efficient directing where each character is embellished richly with a mere half-glance or dinner order. Back-room wheeling and dealing portrayed so incidentally that what would appear outlandish comes across as chillingly real.
And the cast contribute strongly too. George Clooney puts in an Oscar winning turn as a spy very much caught between two worlds and cultures, who is sent to Beirut on CIA business only to be frozen out when things go wrong. Jeffrey Wright is deviousness personified as the Washington lawyer asked by his sinister senior partner Christopher Plummer to take a closer look at a merger between two oil giants, one of which, is headed up by the always excellent Chris Cooper. A host of other top names and some talented newcomers fill out the lesser roles but it’s fair to say everybody plays second fiddle to the intricate plot. That it all plays towards a deeply moving and emotional crescendo is what precludes this almost experimental political burner from unravelling. Instead, it seems to cohere rather impressively and honestly around some unappetising home truths and leave everyone thinking. Impressive indeed.
Rating: The Ugly – 60.4 Genre: Disaster Duration: 130 mins Director: Wolfgang Peterson Stars: George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane
The Perfect Storm is a dramatised account of “The Storm of the Century” that hit the north eastern sea-board of the US in the early 90’s. The movie focuses on a swordboat crew led by salty captain George Clooney, whose attempt to traverse the oceanic monster leads to disastrous consequences. The dialogue is cheesball city but the sea-based action sequences particularly once the storm gets going are a sight to behold.
One of the most daring and original films to come out of Hollywood in the 90′s was this Rodriguez/Tarantino collaboration. The former directed while the latter wrote the screenplay and co-starred as the younger of two brothers (the other being George Clooney) who are on the run from the Texas police and kidnap a family so they can sneak over the Mexican border in their camper van. Clooney puts in an awesome performance as the menacing and hardened criminal while Tarantino does quite well as the unstable psychopath. Harvey Keitel plays the owner of the camper van and it’s his and Clooney’s dynamic that is the most fascinating feature of the film as the two very different alpha males play off each other. Of course, just when the film is turning into a damn good crime movie, they turn the tables on us and the film suddenly becomes a vampire horror flick. To turn your back on the first half of the story when it was going so well took guts but it pays off in spades as the uneasy alliance between Clooney and the family he kidnapped provides a great backdrop to the vampire killing action that unfolds. It’d be easy to dismiss this film as a gimmick but playing with genres and pushing their boundaries has always kept cinema from going stale and having a good story, some great action sequences, and some extremely slick and cool dialogue to boot makes this one hell of a cinematic experience. The crowning achievement of this fascinating project couldn’t have come at a better moment as right before the crossover occurs Salma Hayek takes to the stage in one of the most arresting dance sequences you’ll see in an action or horror movie. “Okay ramblers, let’s get ramblin.”
Although the general consensus is that Intolerable Cruelty is as a poor show by the bothers Joel and Ethan Coen, it’s in fact an often hilarious and delightfully goofy comedy about a successful and clever divorce lawyer (George Clooney) who gets romantically and professionally involved with a scheming and just as clever divorcee (Catherine Zeta Jones). The plot has some of the twists and turns of a typical Coen brothers’ film (though they are definitely dialed down) but much of the charm thanks mainly to Clooney’s fantastic slapstick performance and his chemistry with the thoroughly watchable Zeta Jones. The Coens are no doubt at half speed where the wackiness/zaniness is concerned but that itself is a welcome change of pace and reveals yet another more disciplined side to their film-making. That said, there are some great moments in this film with the showdown with Wheezy Joe being a particular standout. Their long-time collaborators, Carter Burwell (score) and Roger Deacons (cinematography) as usual contribute richly in their own respects.
Rating: The Good – 80.1 Genre: Thriller Duration: 119 mins Director: Tony Gilroy Stars: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson
Superb thriller made in the spirit of those great 1970′s films which were defined by paranoia, corruption, and a slowly built sense of threat. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a lawyer who specialises in fixing problems incurred by his law firm’s biggest clients. When one of their own senior partners (Tom Wilkinson) has a mental breakdown which threatens to lose a class action suit for a major client, Clayton is called in to contain the situation and becomes embroiled in a corporate cover-up that ultimately puts his life in danger. Michael Clayton is a slow-burning and dialogue-driven film that focuses on the dark side to corporate life. The story thoughtfully explores how the various characters deal with the demands of that life and the commitment required to see it through and/or turn one’s back on it. Clooney is fantastic as the mysterious lawyer and he keeps the audience guessing right up until the end. Wilkinson is in thunderous form and dominates every scene he features in as does Tilda Swinton in her Oscar winning turn as the nasty corporate executive. Despite its slow pace, Tony Gilroy’s disciplined direction ensures that Michael Clayton remains compelling throughout while Robert Elswit’s cinematography and John Gilroy’s immaculate editing make it a treat to watch. It all comes together wonderfully at the end with a final scene that appropriately takes its lead from The Long Good Friday.
Terrific adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel by Steven Soderbergh with George Clooney in top form as a serial bank robber who breaks out of a Florida prison so that he can pull a diamond heist with the help of his regular accomplice (Ving Rhames). While doing so, he is forced to kidnap a beautiful but tough federal marshal in the form of Jennifer Lopez and an unlikely relationship between the two develops. As you’d expect from a Leonard-Soderbergh project, Out of Sight is a slickly crafted and worded film with all the style of Soderberg’s Oceans films but with more restraint and a better story. David Holmes chimes in with an equally slick and well weighted score. The highlight of this synthesis between dialogue, look, and score comes during the central romantic moment of the film which is full of playful innovation. Lopez and Clooney are brilliant together displaying palpable chemistry as they woo and zing each other in equal measure.
Rating: The Good – 78.9 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 91 mins Director: Alfonso Cuarón Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
Rarely do critically acclaimed big budget blockbusters live up to their dual billings but Alfonso Cuarón’s story of an astronaut attempting to get back to earth after being slung into free orbit on a disastrous space walk really does seem to do just that. As immersive and visually spellbinding a film as there has ever been, Gravity is a truly singular cinematic experience and one that needs to be seen to be believed. Sandra Bullock plays the astronaut in question (actually she’s an engineer on a technical mission) whose shuttle is destroyed by debris from a nearby satellite leaving only her and George Clooney’s veteran astronaut to traverse the vacuum of space to the international station in order to procure a way home. Without giving too much away, suffice to say, Bullock ends up largely fending for herself and relying on her minimal experience and training to get her through in once piece. Bullock is excellent in a role that required a lot of depth but also presence not to mention an ability to act with nothing but one’s face and voice. She forms an essential bond with her audience so that every breath she takes raises the tension. Clooney is very much in the Clooney-mode of his earlier films. That is to say, he’s really just playing an astronaut version of himself. But all that comes with a priceless charisma and against the blackness of space, the film needed him to bring it during his handful of scenes.
One might suppose the premise of a woman drifting through space would lend itself to a rather monotonous story but surprisingly the drama is non stop. In fact, so relentless are the trials she has to overcome while hurtling around the planet, the tagline to this film could’ve read “whatever can go wrong in space, will go wrong!”. Everything from oxygen depletion, fuel depletion, random collisions with flying debris, to space station fires conspire to thwart her desperate attempts to get home. However, a series of intermittent pauses for some moments of less than subtle symbolism (and cinematic reference) revolving around the central theme of rebirth ensure the film has a serene quality to complement the many tense moments.
There’s no two ways about it, Gravity is just a well directed film. Constructing action sequences with an elegant grace yet tangible terror isn’t easy but setting them against a contemplative silence (this is one film that respects the ‘no sound in space rule’) is even more complicated. But Cuarón does it with an apparent effortlessness. Of course, the jaw dropping visual effects and cinematography make this a little easier for when the endless black and immaculate stillness of space is repeatedly contrasted with the emphatic blue of the earth as impeccably as it is here, both the physical senses and intellect are honed all the more. Almost impressive as the visual artistry is the level of detail that defines practically every single shot. The zero gravity environments of the various stations and shuttles are brought to visceral life with an endless series floating objects such as tools, trinkets, cutlery, and even liquids providing for one of the most realistic depictions of weightlessness out there. This of course is heightened by the 3D experience but even in 2D, it’s breathtaking. For technical boffins, the realism largely ends there and while not a valid criticism of a fictional film, many will (and have) balk at the technical and physical liberties the story takes.
On the subject of writing, it’s important to point out that Gravity isn’t the Citizen Kane of space movies. There’s a story here but it’s nothing mind blowing. This is primarily an action adventure film with a modest level of subjective drama underpinning it. Rather than the writing, it’s the (Oscar winning) direction that elevates the latter as Cuarón pushes all the right buttons to raise the goosebumps and stir the soul into feeling that we’ve followed something more substantial than we actually have. Simply put, he crafts this movie with so much class and focused energy that you’ll either forgive the cliches and heavy-handedness or just straight up not notice them. In fact, the direction becomes the defining feature of the film. And given the scale of the visual effects, that’s no mean feat.
Rating: The Good – 68.6 Genre: Comedy, Drama Duration: 86 mins Director: Anthony & Joe Russo Stars: Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, William H. Macy
Original, quirky, and very witty caper movie about a group of hapless criminals who attempt to pull off a complicated robbery. Welcome to Collinwood was badly received on its release as throngs of George Clooney fans were left disappointed that his part amounted to nothing more than a cameo. That really shouldn’t disappoint anyone though, as the ensemble cast is excellent throughout. The characters are well developed and the film is littered with lovely turns of phrase. Sam Rockwell is the standout performer as the failed boxer who falls for the girl they’re trying to scam but he is well supported by the likes of William H. Macy and the always enjoyable Luis Guzman. There are some genuinely hilarious moments and some great set pieces to keep you entertained for the full 90 mins. If you’re in the mood for something different you could do a lot worse than Welcome to Collinwood.
George Clooney proves he has all the discipline and courage of the great directors in this subtle, slow burning, thought provoking depiction of Edward R. Murrow’s (played by David Strathairn) crusade against Senator McCarthy’s communist witch-hunts of the 40′s & 50′s. Clooney even had the modesty and good sense to play second fiddle on the acting front to the great Strathairn who perfectly embodies the values and sincerity of the aforementioned broadcaster. Shot on a grey-scaled set on colour film which was then corrected into black and white, Good Night and Good Luck is a treat to look at. The resolution that the correction process creates is extremely clear and Clooney uses every bit of it in his staging particularly in those sumptuous hallway shots. He also uses the black and white to cleverly switch between real life footage of McCarthy and the dramatic shots which quite ingeniously sets the former senator alongside the actors as if he were playing himself. This adds tremendously to the authenticity of the film. The supporting cast is near perfect with everyone from Robert Downey Jr., Ray Wise, Jeff Daniels, Patricia Clarkson, Frank Langella, to Clooney himself (as Fred Friendly) hitting all the right notes.
George Clooney was just the man to give Charlie Kaufman’s script a level of accessibility which the writer’s style typically lacks. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is based on the memoirs of famous game show host Chuck Barris, wherein he professed to having moonlighted as a CIA hit-man whilst working on the television. Sam Rockwell takes on a rare lead role and we should all be thankful because he dominates the screen in some style. Even with big names such as Julia Roberts and Clooney himself taking on lovely little cameos your attention is fixated on Rockwell due to a combination of his natural magnetism and subtle characterisations. Being a mainstream mega-star with a taste for the quirky George Clooney knew exactly how far down the road of the bizarre he could take a mainstream audience before they would rebel and as a result, we get the best of both worlds, a ultra-quirky screenplay which is reigned in just enough to be continually compelling.