Top 5 George Clooney Movie Characters


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.

HONORABLE MENTION

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)

 The Perfect Storm

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)

From Dusk Til Dawn

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)

Up in the Air

 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)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

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)

Oceans Twelve

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.

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Up in the Air


Up in the Air

George Clooney as Ryan Bingham is home.

(Paramount) George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton, Melanie Lynskey, Zach Galifianakis, Sam Elliott, J.K. Simmons, Danny McBride, Chris Lowell, Steve Eastin, Young MC. Directed by Jason Reitman

We all create our own cocoons. Some are membrane-thin and allow a great deal to pass through; others are like solid steel and will deflect anything and everything that comes our way.

Ryan Bingham (Clooney) has an unenviable job. He works for a consulting firm based in Omaha, Nebraska that sends specialists to businesses all over the country for the purpose of informing employees of those businesses  that they’ve been fired. Think of them as the opposite of corporate headhunters; more like corporate axemen. Given the state of the economy, business is booming.

As a result Bingham spends a great deal of his time on the road, travelling from city to city. The nature of his job requires Bingham to be exposed to extreme emotional responses, ranging from anger to grief. He has isolated himself from this by building a thick shell around him, letting nobody and nothing in. He has become the ultimate road warrior; the things that annoy most of us about travel and air travel in particular bring Bingham comfort. He has piled up enough miles to have become a member of the most elite of frequent flier programs, allowing him to sail through check-in whereas most of us normal schlubs must wait in line.

Bingham also has a side business of his own; motivational speaking, or perhaps more accurately, anti-motivational speaking. Using the metaphor of a backpack, he espouses that the fewer possessions that one has and the fewer relationships that one is in, the better. Sort of like 21st century EST, in a way. While most of his speaking engagements have been in relatively small conferences or seminars, he is getting interest from much larger, more prestigious events.

The anonymity of faceless chain hotel rooms suits him, and he numbs himself further with drinks in hotel lounges. In one such he meets Alex Goran (Farmiga), a fellow road warrior from Chicago who is impressed by his collection of hotel loyalty program cards, but most of all by the Concierge Key, an American Airlines program offered only to the most valued customers. There is one plateau, however, that Bingham has yet to meet – the 10,000,000 mile club, only achieved by six travelers ever. More people have walked to the moon, Bingham tells her, than have received this honor.

Predictably, they wind up in bed but the casual nature of their relationship appeals to both of them and they make plans to meet again later. First however, Bingham must return home to Omaha for a meeting at the corporate headquarters where he receives a bit of a jolt – the company is looking at a software program that will allow them to video conference via computer and in short, terminate via the internet. Bingham’s boss Craig (Bateman) has taken the advice of a young hotshot named Natalie Keener (Kendrick) fresh out of college who has come up with the program.

As you might imagine, Bingham very much disagrees with this new direction and tells his boss so. Furthermore, he feels (quite rightly) that the inexperienced Natalie has no clue what the consultants actually do and what the job entails. Craig agrees and orders him to take Natalie with him on the road and show her the ropes. Bingham is reluctant but Craig is resolute – go on the road with Natalie or don’t go at all. Reluctantly, Bingham consents.

Natalie is woefully unprepared for the rigors of the road and the emotional fallout from the work. Bingham shows her the ropes and some of the tricks and efficiencies of travel; which lines to get into at the security check and that kind of thing. He also shows her how to turn around a bad interview around as he does in St. Louis with Bob (Simmons), a longtime employee. When Natalie’s by-the-book script fails, Bingham turns the situation around with a little well-placed information from Bob’s resume, urging the terminated employee to seize the opportunity to chase the dreams he gave up when he started working the job he’s being let go from. “This is a wake-up call,” he tells Bob and in a sense, he’s right.

Natalie and Bingham don’t get along well, but when her boyfriend dumps her via text message during a stopover when Alex is visiting Bingham, they begin to bond a little. Alex and Bingham, for their part, are finding themselves increasingly attracted to one another.

This further becomes cemented when Bingham goes to northern Wisconsin to attend his sister Julie’s (Lynskey) wedding to a wide-eyed dreamer named Jim (McBride) with Alex in tow as his “date”. The older sister Kara (Morton), who is having marital troubles of her own, notes that Bingham has had zero effect on the lives of the two sisters; he’s absent from their lives in a way that he is absent from his own. Still, everyone has to come off the road sometime and Bingham’s ideal lifestyle looks like it’s about to end.

There are some amusing moments but director Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno) hasn’t made a comedy. It’s more of an observational piece, ostensibly on the cold corporate climate that grows more impersonal and dehumanizing by the day.

That makes Bingham the ultimate 21st century worker. His Omaha apartment is a reflection of the sterile, personality-challenged hotel rooms he is most comfortable in. There is nothing personal there, nothing to indicate that a human being lives there. It could easily be the room of a Comfort Inn, only less inviting and less clean.

Clooney fills the role beautifully. He is in many ways, perfect for it; the characters he plays tend to be, emotionally speaking, less accessible than other actors. He is personable enough that people will instinctively like him, but he is so shut off that one wonders if he’s got blood flowing through his veins or machine oil. In a world where most socializing is done remotely via the Internet, he fits in as a kind of ultimate expression of that; a person who may be there physically but not emotionally. As Clooney begins to realize what his life has become, his character panics, leading to some of the most satisfying scenes of the film.

Reitman is a savvy filmmaker and he divides his vignettes with overhead shots of anonymous cities with the name of the city in big graphics; we pass over Wichita, Dallas, Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee without getting a sense of the cities at all – like the characters in the movie, there is nothing to connect us to them other than those graphics. It’s a marvelous device and sets up the action of the movie nicely.

Kendrick does an outstanding job in the ingénue role; she is wide-eyed and innocent, vulnerable in many ways but with her own strength and spunk. This is a career-establishing performance and is being given serious Supporting Actress consideration for the Oscars. Farmiga has become a very dependable actress who has yet to really get that plum role that will define her career; this isn’t it either, but she is still memorable in her role.

The ending was a source of disagreement between Da Queen and I; she didn’t like it at all, whereas I understood it and thought it made organic sense. Some may find the message a bit of a downer, but I think it’s refreshingly realistic. In the end, not all of us are cut out for relationships but that doesn’t mean we don’t need them. In any case, this is another solid film to add to Reitman’s impressive resume; it has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle of the Christmas release glut, but perhaps instead of making a fourth or fifth trek to see Avatar you might want to give this outstanding movie a try.

REASONS TO GO: Clooney and Kendrick give terrific performances. Well-directed commentary on the impersonal nature of modern corporate culture and relationships

REASONS TO STAY: Clooney isn’t the most emotionally accessible of actors which makes it hard sometimes to empathize with his character.  

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sex and language concerns, but the concepts here might be a little much for the young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: With the exception of Simmons and Galifianakis, every person that is fired in the movie is not an actor but a person laid off recently in reality. The filmmakers posted ads in St. Louis and Detroit posing as makers of a documentary on the effects of the recession; those who answered the ad were instructed to treat the camera like the person who fired them and respond either as they had or as they wished they had.

HOME OR THEATER: Much of the movie takes place on airplanes, in hotel rooms or in conference rooms. The intimate feeling lends itself to home viewing.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Uninvited

New Releases for the Week of December 11, 2009


Invictus

Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon hope they'll be hoisting Oscars come February.

INVICTUS

(Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng, Matt Stern, Julian Lewis Jones, Adjoa Andoh, Marguerite Wheatley. Directed by Clint Eastwood

After the election of Nelson Mandela, the newly elected President of South Africa faced a Herculean task of reuniting a country divided upon racial lines for so long. He recognized the bonding power and sport and picked the national rugby team as a means of bringing both black and white together. This true story is the latest Oscar contender for director Clint Eastwood.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for brief strong language)

The Princess and the Frog

(Disney) Featuring the voices of Anika Noni Rose, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Oprah Winfrey. The latest animated film from Disney is a reworking of the fairy tale that has a frog that is a prince. Set in turn of the century New Orleans, this is the first Disney film to feature an African-American princess and features music from Oscar-winning composer Randy Newman.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: G

Red Cliff

(Magnet) Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei. Acclaimed action John Woo returns to his homeland for his first film there in more than a decade, taking on an epic historic battle nearly two thousand years ago that shaped the history of China and would mark the end of the Han Dynasty. More than a million soldiers took part in the battle and Woo’s recreation of it would be the most expensive film ever made in Asia – and also the most popular.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for sequences of epic warfare)

Up in the Air

(Paramount) George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman, Anna Kendrick. In this new film by the director of Juno and Thank You for Smoking, Clooney portrays a corporate hatchet man, a consultant hired by big companies to inform employees they’ve been let go. He loves his life on the road and detests being home but changes and cutbacks at his firm may force him to return to home permanently just as he is approaching a frequent flyer milestone. This will be opening wide on Christmas Day but is opening on a limited basis in select theaters this week.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)