November 22, 2011 by staff
George Clooney, There is a scene in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants after George Clooney’s Matt King waves goodbye to the last guests to leave the “party” he’s thrown to inform his close friends that his wife will never recover from her coma. Once they’re out of sight, he turns to walk back towards the house, but he’s completely shattered. His shoulders sag, his face is ashen, and every step looks like it could be his last.
He crumbles to his knees, but it’s those last few tottering steps that took the wind out of me as a viewer. George Clooney is a movie star, by any definition — The Last Movie Star, some would argue — and here he is, playing a cuckold who can’t even control his own rambunctious daughters. Combine this performance with his legal fixer in Michael Clayton and his corporate grim reaper in Up in the Air, and you have a trio of devastatingly powerful roles that accede the vulnerability of age, guilt, and regret.
Now 50 — just a year older than Tom Cruise — Clooney seems to be pulling a page from the Paul Newman playbook: Gorgeous leading man embracing the gray around his ears with roles like Frank Galvin in The Verdict, a stark portrayal of a flawed man that doubles-down on our preconceptions of a screen icon yet liberates the actor to expand his acting toolbox.
There are plenty of professional parallels between Newman and Clooney, not to mention their liberal political activism. Both were failures before they became successes. Newman had to endure the likes of The Silver Chalice before finally becoming a star at age 31 with Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956). Clooney had been condemned to television supporting roles until, at 33, his Dr. Doug Ross proved that he was destined for something greater than just being a pretty face. Like Newman, Clooney used those good looks and popularity to make the films he found compelling (Three Kings, O Brother, Where Art Thou, Syriana), yet they were both the first to realize the moment they weren’t action heroes anymore. Neither needed to be convinced that they couldn’t — or shouldn’t — be shooting bad guys or chasing terrorists.
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