A story in Sunday’s NYT makes the case for George Clooney, movie star AND actor. I agree 100 percent. As a withered crone, of course my hubba-hubba interest in him is, in a word, gross, so I lay that aside and concentrate, like the writer of this piece does, on how he does it. We saw “Up in the Air” over the weekend, and there were several points where I noticed what isn’t appealing about his physicality — he’s a little too thin, and has the big Hollywood head first pointed out by LAMary some time back. (As an Angeleno who has seen many in the flesh, she called actors “the lollipop people.”) There was an angle here and there where you could see his neck is getting crepey, although he retains the Clooney sparkle and will until he dies.
What I like about him is his (seeming) professional pluck, uncommon in a movie star capable of phoning it in until retirement. He comes across as not only a nice movie-star guy, but one who really is all about the work. He takes chances, stretches himself, is unafraid of both failure and unflattering camera angles that show his softening neck. He has the self-effacement and good sense not to whine about how hard it is to be him, at least in public. I know a few people who’ve had personal encounters with him and say he’s pretty much as advertised, and if it really is all bullshit and he’s just very good at snowing fangirls like me, then, well-snowed, sir.
Terrence Rafferty gets it right at the very beginning:
He’s the kind of actor who could float along forever on his genial presence alone, coast on charm. But he doesn’t. (Or doesn’t always.) That’s the mystery.
That is, indeed, the mystery. It’s hard to imagine another actor carrying “Up in the Air” as capably as he does, even when you look closely and see where he gets help. He plays a son of a bitch who happily fires people for a living, but gains our sympathy through the early introduction of an even bigger monster, a young underling who wants to fire people for a living via teleconference. He makes a pitch for the comparable dignity of doing such ugly work in person, and you almost forget that he’s the guy who makes his living through outsourced terminations in the first place. It’s the Don Corleone trick; he’s happy to make his living from violence, gambling, prostitution and protection, but not from drugs. He’s the best bad guy in the room.
I try not to read too much about movies I intend to see in theaters, but it was hard to miss the chatter about “Up in the Air,” particularly as it was partially shot here and touches the raw wound of job loss. I read beforehand about how Jason Reitman, the writer and director, had to make a tonal shift in his script as the story was, as we say in journalism, overtaken by events. But whatever he had to rewrite or rethink, he did it exceptionally well. It’s so sure-footed. I think one reason I liked this movie so much is, we don’t see enough stories onscreen about people’s work lives (unless they’re doctors or lawyers or police, that is). We certainly don’t see many about people who work in white-collar office jobs, and I found myself moved by shots that weren’t even particularly fussed over — the pans of offices already half-empty, the extra chairs pushed into a vacant cubicle, the phones piled up on the floor, the way everyone sees Clooney walk in and immediately cower in fear. I’ve been there; my office looked like that when I left, and one of the exciting new ad hoc committees for 2005 was supposed to be the rearrangement and removal of furniture so it didn’t look so tumbleweedy.
I also like Rafferty’s career assessment of Clooney, as he called out my two favorite performances — “Out of Sight” and “Michael Clayton,” and the best part of the latter film. It’s the final, two-minute shot of the Cloonester in the back of a cab:
He flags a taxi, slumps into the back seat and tells the cabbie to drive, and it’s only then that you understand how eloquent Mr. Clooney’s body language has been throughout the preceding two hours — how tensely he’s been holding himself, how warily he’s been sizing up his dangerous world. As he sits in the cab, just riding, the camera stays on him for two full minutes. He does nothing, apparently. His expression hardly changes. But you can feel the weight of what he’s been through in his blankness, his emptied-out eyes. You can’t stop looking at him. It’s a great, daring piece of acting. Only a movie star could get away with it.
(I disagree with that last sentence, by the way. Bob Hoskins, “The Long Good Friday,” end of discussion.)
OK, then. Movie Monday it is, I guess. We also caught an oldie I’d never seen before, “Bound,” on cable Friday night. More on that when I recover from how good it was.
The Harry Reid story is leading the weekend news cycle as “Game Change,” the new book about the 2008 presidential campaign, gets circulating. But don’t miss this excerpt in New York magazine, about the meltdown of another handsome man, John Edwards, who fell for the oldest trap in the world.
Speaking of Reid, who still says “Negro,” anyway? Doesn’t he know the code word yet? “Articulate?”
This NYT Styles story was so stupid it made my brain hurt. Thank God for Terrence Rafferty.
I’m late getting to the big New Yorker profile of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods and, it would seem, the model for Steve Martin’s character in “Baby Mama.” Note well:
His belief in the power of the individual is such that blame falls on individuals, too. In his view, it tends to be the fault of the unhealthy or fat person that he or she is unhealthy or fat. People just need to eat better. He told me, “If I could, I would wave a magic wand so that Americans ate better, because the diseases that are killing us—heart disease, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s—these diseases have a high correlation with diet. And that is something that most people do not understand.”
It matters less to him that our food system, for a dozen reasons, as Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and many others have chronicled, has been rigged to deliver unhealthy food at artificially low cost to a misguided public. People have the power and the means to choose rice and beans over Big Macs, and when they fail to do so they bring ruin on themselves, and on everyone else. In his Wall Street Journal column, Mackey wrote of “the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health. Unfortunately, many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight, and one-third are obese.” Inarguable as this assertion may be, it struck a discordant note. People who may look to Whole Foods to agitate for changes in the food system, or who have been bankrupted by medical costs despite eating right, might wonder if it was quite the moment to be preaching personal responsibility.
Worth your time.
And another week begins. At least it was a pretty weekend. Enjoy it.