George Clooney used his breakout role as Dr. Doug Ross in the hit TV medical drama “E.R.” to catapult him into movie stardom, a position he hasn’t relinquished in more than a decade. His charm and self-effacing humor have translated nicely to the big screen; it doesn’t hurt that his rugged good looks have kept him in the running for People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive honor during that entire run. Perhaps the most notable thing about Clooney’s career however, is his willingness to take on quirky roles that many mainstream stars would be loathe to tackle. Here are some of his more memorable ones.
It’s hard to limit Clooney’s career to just five top roles; here are some that narrowly missed the cut. Bob Barnes in Syriana (2005) stood out in an ensemble drama enough to net Clooney his first (and only to date) Oscar as an aging, frustrated CIA Middle East operative who comes to find that everything he thought he was working for was a lie. Lyn “Skip” Casady in The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) is indicative of Clooney’s bread and butter off-center roles, as a career army officer who works for a strange and unique group of military psychics who intend to wage mental warfare on America’s enemies – but first must beat the games going on within their own ranks. In the title role of Michael Clayton (2007), Clooney played a reprehensible lawyer who finally manages to grow a conscience (and no, it wasn’t science fiction). This is another Oscar nomination for Clooney, who has been nominated twice for acting and once each for writing and directing. Finally, Archie Gates in Three Kings (1999) was a Gulf War soldier with ambition, intelligence and more than a little greed in one of those Clooney movies that while not a major hit still remains a cult favorite today.
5. CAPTAIN BILLY TYNE, THE PERFECT STORM (2000)
Clooney doesn’t play real people very often, but in this depiction of one of the worst storms to hit the Northeast ever recorded, he captures the spirit of the captain of the ill-fated sword boat Andrea Gail. He’s a well-respected captain who was on a run of bad fishing that decided to go out farther than perhaps was safe, only to find a monster in between him and his home port. Clooney captured perfectly the working class courage of an old salt, the kind we would see later on reality shows like “The Deadliest Catch.”
4. SETH GECKO, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN (1996)
Robert Rodriguez turned the vampire movie clichés on their ears, not so much reinventing the vampire movie as injecting it with enough steroids to turn it into Arnold Schwarzenegger with fangs. Clooney co-starred with director Quentin Tarantino as the Gecko brothers, a couple of small-time hoods on the run who kidnap a family and take them to an unlikely place – a Mexican titty bar – that is the front for a group of vampires who lure humans in to feed upon. Gecko is vicious, merciless and quite frankly the perfect antihero.
3. RYAN BINGHAM, UP IN THE AIR (2009)
Clooney’s most recent Oscar nomination was for this movie, in which he plays a corporate consultant who firms hire specifically to inform employees they’ve been laid on. In order to insulate himself from the emotions of the job, Bingham develops a taste for the itinerant life, living out of a suitcase going from airport to airport, anonymous hotel to anonymous hotel in cities all over the country. Nobody does the emotionally insulated character better than Clooney does.
2. ULYSSES EVERETT MCGILL, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? (2000)
Early on in Clooney’s film career he developed a rapport with the Coen Brothers who would later go on to direct him in such films as Burn After Reading and Intolerable Cruelty. Their best collaboration however was in this Depression-set movie which was VERY loosely based on Homer’s “The Odyssey” and featured Clooney as a fast-talking ex-convict with a love of Dapper Dan pomade that equals that of his love for his wife. The movie is quirky and refreshing, full of cornbread humor and soggy bottoms. It’s definitely among my favorite movies ever.
1. DANNY OCEAN, OCEAN’S 11, OCEAN’S 12, OCEAN’S 13 (2001, 2004, 2007)
This is a bit of a no-brainer; while perhaps McGill would be Clooney’s best performance ever, this is going to be the character he will be remembered for; the ultra-suave, super-smart thief Danny Ocean who robs three Las Vegas casinos with a crew of the best there are at what they do, all while chasing down his ex-wife who divorced him while he was in prison. There would go on to be two more Oceans movies, all of which are among Clooney’s biggest hits. It takes a great deal to out-do the Rat Pack but that’s just what director Steven Soderbergh, Clooney and his band of merry men (and women) did.