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Hard Right and Clooney left
A preview of SYRIANA and GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK via the political leanings of a Mr. George Clooney, by Camus

NOTE: The idea of highlighting the politics of Mr. George Clooney must have seemed obvious given the distribution pattern in the UK of both Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck. As I tore off the cover to the latest Total Film magazine (while halfway through writing this piece), I realised that I had been beaten to it. The Clooney cover proclaims 'The Most Dangerous Man In Hollywood!' and I had the distinct impression of being scooped. However, that article remains unread (or at least until this one is posted).

"There are no good guys, there are no bad guys…" Maybe that's true of the global oil business but in Hollywood, the good guys aren't movie heroes. They are those who put their power and money where their consciences are. When I first discovered that David Puttnam (OK, Lord Puttnam if we really must) was a card carrying left winger, I felt a twinge of pride. Then there was that very British feeling of "Oh, should he be proselytising like that? Isn't that a little tacky?" Then in '82 he stepped up for his best picture Oscar and into the upper echelons of a very exclusive and generally rich person's club – Hollywood. Invited to the top spot at Columbia in 1986, he simply could not stay David Puttnam within the Hollywood system and he got out (or was pushed out) while his sanity still seemed like a precious commodity.

Los Angeles is known as La La land and this has very little to do with its initials. I came swiftly to the conclusion that the film industry does very odd things to people. Like politicians, film people have to live in two very separate worlds. In one, the dogs need walking, the children need feeding and there are many prices to pay for a semblance of normality. In the other world, you relax at home with your family. There is a stark unreality in the family-free professional world quite unlike traditional employment or as Apple employees once called the effect (in their case being around Steve Jobs) – a 'reality distortion field'.

Movie stars operate almost constantly in a world where the word 'No' is something they alone are allowed to say. Brave is the exec or director who questions a movie star's opinion unless said exec or director is a star himself or herself. This, I assume, is the result of great power heaped upon great insecurity. The more secure the actor/star, the more fun he/she can have with their power and perceived persona. Witness Martin Sheen riffing off his West Wing's democrat President role at marches against the war in Iraq. Hollywood's most politically active couple (above the water line of publicity), Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, actively make politically themed movies (let's not mention Shall We Dance even though I've not seen it).

If absolute power corrupts absolutely, let it be in the form of the gracefully employed clout of George Clooney. Here was a likeable TV heart-throb who made a tentative step into movies only to strike out on several broad sides. His ease and charisma, evident on the box in ER, was tinsel town tested (The Peacemaker, One Fine Day) but as William Goldman once remarked of the difference between TV and film actors; the former, people want to hug; the latter they want to fu… play jigsaw body massage with. Clooney has long since crossed over from hugs to kisses but along the journey the man has developed in a way that movie stars do not usually develop. He remains wholly committed to his art, his craft and his left of centre point of view, though he keeps a businessman's eye on his back end, as do his faithful admirers. He is using an Ocean 11 or twelve to garner the power to combat the right wing tsunami of sludge that threatens to further isolate the US. In short, he stars in bloated event pictures for the money so the money, and therefore power, can be brought to bear on those projects for which he obviously has a profound passion. That's the way to play the system and all power to him.

Let's have a trawl. OK, he's apologized for Batman and Robin enough. Let that one be. Apart from sports loving, caring child physician Dr. Ross, Clooney would also merit more than a footnote in TV history for being responsible for helping to launch Trey Parker and Matt Stone on a disbelieving and grateful public. The story goes that he got hold of the animated 'Spirit of Christmas' Christmas card one-off of what was to become South Park bootlegged from Fox exec Brian Graden and was so taken with it, he practically beat down the path that presented itself for the animation hit to march on to scatological glory. In a sly and funny nod to his ER persona, he voiced the doctor trying to resuscitate Kenny in the South Park movie (as well as Sparky the gay dog in the first TV series). Alas, Kenny went to both heaven and hell and the cartoon Ross didn't give a monkeys. Clooney is also regarded well by his co-actors in ER, refusing to bail for a more lucrative movie career to keep ER on the air. He also flirted with Sue Lawley on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs*, asking for his luxury item, a huge yacht. When scolded by Lawley that he could not sail it away from the island, Clooney agreed with a sparkle in his eye (this was radio but you could just tell) but on stipulation that Sue visited him. You could almost hear Sue's heart skip a beat.

Clooney found a creative soul-mate (no, not Max, his pig) in once-indy darling, now A list player, director Steven Soderbergh. All it took was bonding on the set of the criminally under-rated Out of Sight and a company was formed, an outsider company that would pour its creative power into projects that did what outsiders were supposed to do (to quote TV journalist Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck), "poke the giant with a stick and see what happens…" It's no accident that Clooney and Soderbergh named their company after the military rule that kicks out those suffering from apparent insanity; Section 8. Well, a glance at Section 8's output gives you more than a clue as to the political leanings of Mr Clooney and in today's climate of mistrust, religious intolerance, fear and isolationism, his actions are to be applauded. Yes, he's handsome, yes he's rich but he's also very funny ("We're in a tight spot…" O, Brother Where Art Thou) and also something of a prankster on set but most of all he's committed to poking a small left leaning stick at a hard right leviathan. It's people like Clooney, Sarandon, Robbins and Sheen that give me what little hope I have for the US's re-integration into global consciousness as a force for good. Could its reputation, it has to be said, get any worse?

This year, Clooney has two films released only a matter of weeks apart, one he co-wrote, acted in and directed. On February 17th comes the understated and exquisitely acted and shot Good Night and Good Luck charting those who chose to fight Senator McCarthy and his communist witch hunts at CBS in the 50s, and in stark contrast, Syriana, which opens in early March, is a four strand threaded narrative slow burn with international politics and brutal violence hovering around the world's oil business like a miasma of flies over a corpse. Their presence is inevitable. Before I review both excellent movies, indulge me a few more paragraphs.

I love America.

You read that right; the idea of America, the energy of America, the optimism of America. But America is just an idea rolling along simultaneously presenting itself as the global template for a happy and fulfilled lifestyle and crushing those under huge wheels who have the misfortune to be beholden to the eagle. It's those bastards driving America that turn me incandescent. The car is a wonderful vehicle but the drivers are driving it through the worst storms on the worst roads and cackling as they do so. America has been kind and magical to me and I love my share of Americans. I despise the US selling paradigm now parading around behind the scenes at Asda (owned by US giant Walmart) inviting workers to be called 'colleagues' and employing that sickly faux sincerity that most Britons – and in-the-know Americans one presumes - find offensive. I balk a little at the naiveté of the average American as regards the country's foreign policies but then I always thought ignorance was the perfect excuse. How can you be affected, be hurt or care about something that you know nothing about? Well, you should, especially if your country is doing things to other countries to maintain your way of life. As stated before in the pages of this site, the UK's record in these affairs is hardly any better but at least you get the impression – however faint - that the UK populace agonises over it. Just a little. I mean we have the BBC's Question Time to remind us of this collective British hand wringing.

One gets the sense (yes, I know how carefully that was put) from the media that America is a fat sandwich full of informed east-west bread and ignorant middle-meat. But the bread is thin and the meat is copious. And this is where democracy falls on its face. If the meat will always outweigh the bread, you are never going to get an elected government that the more informed people voted for. This isn't simplistic elitism, it's common statistical sense and common statistical sense the world over. It's mob rule out there (remember, that's if we're lucky…) and there's very little stray caritas – globally speaking - for anything but Thames-breached bottlenose whales and that damn cat in Shrek 2. But democracy is the best we have, god (hmmm) help us. But then when "the people" do speak in wonderfully large numbered opposition to their rulers, why is their voice so harmonious and clear? And, in its way, beautiful? Maybe that's just rosy tinted Poll Tax memories and the Marcosian stirrings of millions in song reported in P.J. O'Rourke's book 'Holidays From Hell'.

So what does George do (Clooney not Bush), if not to slay the dragon, then to drag it out into the light so people can see it for what it really is; a government hell-bent on preserving its resources and keeping its people in fear while repressing those who advocate advocacy. Well, if you're Clooney, you co-star in a movie that is the natural successor to Three Days of the Condor and direct a movie taking on the might of post 2nd world war republicanism. Go George!

The Reviews


* A weekly BBC radio show in which the guest is asked to name the ten pieces of music they could not live without on a desert island. They are allowed a Bible (why?), the complete works of Shakespeare (OK) and a luxury item…

Section Eight selected filmography

Ocean's Eleven (Steven Soderberg 2001)
Insomnia (Christopher Nolan 2003)
Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes 2002)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (George Clooney 2002)
Criminal (Gregory Jacobs 2004)
Ocean's Twelve (Steven Soderberg 2004)
The Jacket (John Maybiry 2005)
Good Night and Good Luck (George Clooney 2005)
Bubble (Steven Soderberg 2005)
The Big Empty (Lisa Chang, Newton Thomas Sigel 2005)
Syriana (Stephen Gaghan 2005)
Rumor Has It (Rob Reiner 2005)
The Good German (Steven Soderbergh 2005)
A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater 2005)

date posted
28 January 2006

See all of Camus' reviews