Considering that George Clooney’s career started off with a pile of awful nonsense like Return to Horror High and Return of the Killer Tomatoes, and that his return to the big screen after finally getting famous with TV hospital drama ER was blighted by the disastrous campness of Batman and Robin and tedious nonsense of The Peacemaker, his successes of the last few years are nothing short of amazing.
Not content with reviving both his own and director Steven Soderbergh’s careers with a wonderfully charming performance in 1998’s rom/com crime caper Out of Sight, he has gone on to turn in some genuinely great performances in a succession of modern classics, from Gulf War heist movie Three Kings via the Coen Brothers’ last decent film O Brother, Where Art Thou? to his upcoming Oscar-tipped performance in political thriller Syriana, due out next month.
Yet becoming one of Hollywood’s best-loved and most bankable stars seems not to have been enough for Clooney – having reached the peak in front of the camera, he is now exploring what it’s like from the other side.
This is his second outing as director after 2002’s stylishly absorbingly quirky Cold War spy thriller Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and this time he’s tried his hand as a screenwriter as well. The result, much like with his first directorial outing, is both accomplished and original to the extent that it could almost be mistaken for the work of Clooney’s best buddy Soderbergh, who merely gets an executive producer credit. The crisp black and white cinematography not only helps the footage from the 1950s seamlessly blend with the modern reconstructions, but it also helps lend an air of classic style to the whole affair.
As with his last directorial outing, the setting for this film is firmly in the Cold War, again revolves around the world of television, and is again loosely based on a true story – this time the campaign by CBS reporter Edward R Murrow (David Strathairn) and his producer Fred Friendly (Clooney) to expose the vehemently anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy for the fearmongering fanatic he was.
Considering the current political atmosphere in the United States, with the term “anti-American” yet again being bandied about by those who object to criticism of the Bush administration’s actions both in Iraq and at home, and especially considering that Clooney’s next film is a pointed critique of US policy in the Middle East, it’s a fairly safe bet that parallels are meant to be drawn with the present day.
But whether you agree with Clooney’s political message or not, it is hard to deny that he is shaping up as every bit as talented a director as he is a movie star. To top it all, it’s that rarest of movie treats these days – just 90 minutes long, yet with more interest and filmmaking skill than almost any of the now standard three-hour behemoths we’re forced to endure at the cinema. This is an intelligent, beautifully-shot recreation of one of America’s darkest periods, perfectly executed by a wonderful cast, thoroughly-researched script, and the kind of attention to historical detail rarely seen in Hollywood. It is fully deserving of all its awards and nominations.