George Clooney has four feature film directing credits to his name — too few to accurately assess his sensibilities and broader obsessions. But with the announcement of his next project, which THR reveals is a film based on a May 28 New Yorker article detailing the life of William Alexander Morgan, an American who aided Fidel Castro in overthrowing the Cuban government, a sense of what drives Clooney’s filmmaking side becomes a bit clearer. Clooney is solidifying himself as the premiere political filmmaker of the modern age.
Political dramas have been a common staple in Hollywood since cameras first started burning images into celluloid, but the genre swelled in the 1970s and ’80s with domestic and international tension at a high, war bubbling across the globe. Filmmakers like Sydney Pollock, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski were examining politics and the general state of the world through human drama and broader backdrops. Perhaps the most influential of them all was Alan J. Pakula, who delved into political conspiracy with films like All the President’s Men, The Parallax View and, arguably, Klute. Oliver Stone carried the political torch into the ’80s, aggressively depicting the faults of government while praising the faint glimmers of hope that were left in the country. Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK — movies that tackle relevant subjects with little constraint.
Jump to today. Sensibilities (and business models) of Hollywood evolved, and now political films are few and far between, low-budget documentaries being the suitable form of dissection, rather than multi-million dollar studio gambles. The sea change helped Michael Moore become a household name, but those looking for the qualities of a written, dramatic experience are out of luck. Popcorn entertainment trumps real world reflection. Even our Oscar-friendly movies fit that bill — not to slight it, but what did The Artist say about the life and times of today?
But Clooney is using his power to revive the old school method. Really, he’s the only one with the clout to do it. The A-list actor made his political drive well-known: Clooney routinely trots the globe promoting social issues and reform for less-than-ideal governments. He’s taken part in protests in Washington D.C. — and even found himself in handcuffs a few times. He’s an advocate, and now he’s using his position in Hollywood, his newfound position as a top-notch director, to reach a broader audience. Leatherheads aside, his films have all been prisms for reflecting politics: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was steeped in that Paluka-esque paranoia; Goodnight and Good Luck depicted the hardships of journalism during the McCarthy era that feel all too familiar today; and Ides of March was is most on the nose effort to date, diving directly into the terrifying underbelly of election season. Unlike Oliver Stone, Clooney has the tenderness of being an actor too, helping to bring dimensionality to his characters. A great political film needs real people, not pawns, and Clooney avoids didacticism through performance. He may have his own political slant, but he’s not one to drive home a singular message. Politics is a grey zone, and Clooney paints it as such.
If Clooney continues to tackle political films, the genre will be seen as his wheelhouse, which often translates to a comfort zone. That’s narrow thinking — really, who else could be bringing these stories to life other than Clooney? With the actor-turned-director at the helm of heady political tales, audiences will have a few sizzling, undefinable pictures sprinkled among the usual biopic dramas of deceased celebrity or sweeping historical epics that often flood award season. If the guy can get a political drama made in the current Hollywood climate, he should. As Edward R. Murrow puts it in Goodnight and Good Luck: “This instrument can teach. It can illuminate and, yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it towards those ends.”
Go forth, Clooney. Make movies that teach us something.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: WENN.com]