You know that coy smile which you like but you also do not like? The one which is disarming in so many ways and yet has an edge of smugness in it that makes you take umbrage at it, if ever so slightly. It belongs to a man in his late forties or early fifties, yeah, a cinquogenarian, handsome, salt&pepper hairdo that seems to actually work out great for a change.
The man is holding a little cup in his hand and over its rim he is smiling at you. At me. I’ve seen this particular face times beyond counting and I know the person it belongs to, but only the other day it suddenly dawned on me that he takes up serious squaremeters on my subconscious real-estate. This will neither be a calumny nor a laudatio, of which, yaweh knows, there have been many enough. Instead it will be a small exercise of trying to come to terms with why exactly on earth I am so very much of two minds about the man: George Clooney. Clowney. The Big Cloonundrum, whatever wordplay floats your semantic boat.
The man first bleeped onto my radar in “Out of Sight” in which he stars alongside Jennifer Lopez; this was back in the unconscionable, embarrassing days when J-Lo was still a hot commodity in my pubescent ranking of hot female actresses, which is to say “way back when…”. Even then Clooney came across as what I still consider to be one of his main functions: “a smooth operator”.
To be honest, I don’t remember a thing about the darn movie but George Clooney, to my mind, has always made the impression of near-infallibility. The issue being that one perfectly well knows that actors do precisely that “act”, “play as if”, “pretend at” and that we as the star-struck or drooling or pop-corn throwing spectators just go along with the act: we suspend our disbelief.
But when I watch Clooney, I don’t disbelieve. I think that this one heckuva smooth guy and smart-talker and lady-assassin who “does what he does, but does it like he’s doing it on TV” (hiphop nudge-in-the-ribs allusion). Georgie boy comes off as in total-control of the situation as it would seem humanly possible to be. Removed from his real-life character by maybe one degree or less… and for this the guy gets paid, being himself. This is what Jack Nicholson evidently gets paid for too, but you don’t want to be him because Jack comes across, mostly, as an elimination orifice [in his movies].
George Clooney, and this is part of the problem, I sort of want to be. I don’t want to be him in the deeper sense but I can easily imagine what it would be like to wish to be him: between myself as is and that other-self that wishes to be G.C. in loco myself there is just one degree of separation. Ergo Clooney is a cryptic, subconscious symbol of my will to inexist, of the collapse of my subjective cosmos. But please do not interpret this vague philosophizing paragraph in reference to “Out of Sight” because that movie was only a “limit event”, a point in time when I became aware of something/somebody as somehow relevant in a way that I hadn’t been before.
The game-changer was “Syriana” in which Clooney had the ‘courage’ or whatever is the correct word once you work at those altitudes, to give up his gallant persona grata for a washed-up secret operative. Grew a significant beard, maybe even put on a few Pirellis and ruthlessly uncovered the underbelly of the U.S. of A.’s (and the rest of the Developed World’s) black-toothed thirst for Texas tea. The movie, though complicated, is one of those filmic masterpieces for the ages where suspense, social criticism and A-class-acting are blended like how you rarely get to witness it. That motion picture made me almost love the man [and really like whoever else was in it]. And he did all this after being the cool, mastermindish Danny Ocean on O11 and O12, which signaled to me that he was able to portray more than that “smooth operator” persona.
And if that was not enough, he cemented his status as a person capable of profoundly criticizing the machine in “Good Night and Good Luck”. For these two movies, and others I have seen since, I simply love the guy because he [among others] lets me know that there can be intelligent, critical movies even within the big-time, dream-factory, bubble-universe called Hollywood.
Then dismay struck: George Clooney, said some anonymous news report on the internet [that ocean of information in which it is so hard not to drown or loose sight of the horizon], George Clooney uses a private jet. A private freaking jet! I had to double-check the info and it seemed to check out. The hypocrisy of the lead from “Syriana”, condemning at every turn petrol cleptocracy, himself putting in hundreds of thousands of miles in an aircraft all for himself, felt like being personally lied to. The very opposite of “star-struck” is what it felt like but then I gummed up and told myself that, after all, in “Syriana”, G. C. indeed was just another actor. He had acted, performed a role he himself, so said the internet, did not truly believe in. My single affair-de-demi-coeur with a Hollywood half-god seemed over and done with.