This latest outing from George Clooney is another of the character pieces in which he is beginning to specialise – a close study of one flawed man up against overwhelming odds. After taking on similar parts in the likes of Syriana and The Good German, and having directed films revolving around the same basic concept in Good Night and Good Luck and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, it seems that this is becoming Clooney’s personal trademark.
This time Clooney takes on the part of a legal fixer – a behind-the-scenes lawyer-cum-detective who clears up the messes that could ruin impending court cases. Unfortunate evidence that could prove decisive? He can find it and do what’s necessary – either bring it in to use, or take it off and destroy it. It’s a shady, borderline illegal world similar in its way to that occupied by his run-down CIA agent in Syriana – and, as in Syriana, Clooney’s character soon finds himself torn between the need to do his duty and the desire to do the right thing. As he begins to uncover a vast conspiracy, soon he finds that he has ended up as the problem, and that someone else is out to “fix” him.
Legal conspiracy thrillers can make for good novels, yet in the movies they’re often hard to pull off. With so much reliance on brainwork, without a central star whose intelligence you can believe, the whole thing can come tumbling down. That was, after all, the central problem with 1997’s The Devil’s Advocate – Keanu Reeves was not, nor ever will be, convincing as a hotshot lawyer.
With Clooney, however, there are no such difficulties. Having made his name playing a charismatic doctor on ER, and having repeatedly proved himself intelligent and witty in real life through countless interviews, our George’s public persona is as one of Hollywood’s cleverest and most charismatic superstars.
At the same time, with a film so strongly focussed around one character, you need someone who has a strong enough presence to hook in the audience from the opening reel. Even the likes of Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, though massive names who will occasionally take interesting risks, tend to rely on their looks at least as much as their acting ability. With George Clooney, the good looks are almost incidental – it is instead his effortless charm and uncanny ability to get you rooting for him that make him one of the finest actors working in Hollywood today.
So, as Clooney dashes around trying to work out what’s going on, it’s impossible not to get hooked in. The conspiracy itself may be a touch predictable – although centred as it is around the wonderful Tilda Swinton, as one of the executives at the company at the centre of the court case, it’s hard to begrudge that – and the pacing somewhat more sedate than one would normally expect from a thriller. But, above all else, it’s a George Clooney film – and as he hasn’t given a bad performance in over ten years, that makes it worth seeing in any case.