Posts Tagged ‘George Clooney’

Alexander Payne is an unusual proposition; a Hollywood insider with a taste for European arthouse films, a director whose films seem relatively gentle and breezy on the surface, yet hide an acerbic wit and misanthropic worldview below. Often his films will meander along playfully, then Payne will throw a curveball out of the blue. I’m thinking about the lecherous teacher in Election revelling in his students’ ‘Cunt’, the grotesque but humorous copulation of the ‘large’ couple in Sideways and in his newest film, the resolutely un-PC outbursts from stoner dude Sid. I’m not sure many other US filmmakers could get away with what Payne has and still get lauded by the Academy voters.

The Descendants, his latest film, is a less abrasive and more reflective affair than his previous offerings. It follows Matt (George Clooney), a lawyer and his two teenage daughters (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller) as they come to terms with his wife’s severe coma. Matt, a descendant of the islands ‘owners’, also has to contend with an imminent decision whether to sell off the island to investors. Over the course of the film, these issues become increasingly interlinked and Matt has some moral quandaries forced upon him.

This sub plot with the island sale is a lesser matter; we’re interested in what will happen to the people on screen, not some courtroom malarkey. Matt’s relationship with his daughters is distant and hands off. The disappearance of the strong parental influence forces him to contemplate his role in their lives, and hopefully, step up to the plate. Payne opts for a more reflexive family drama; he has mainly dispensed with the cutting humour and daft hijinks that made his previous films a delight. This is adult fodder, with no easy answers.

Clooney gives one of his most heartfelt performances as the lead. Payne has said he doesn’t ‘believe’ most actors in Hollywood, but ‘believes’ Clooney. Though Clooney is the archetypal movie star, he has a certain goofiness and good nature that Payne exploits to great effect. Amara Miller is solid as the younger sister, yet it’s Shailene Woodley who steals the show. As the temperamental Alexandra, she exudes an emotional rawness that is reminiscent of Anna Paquin’s recent role in Margaret.

Good though it is, I can’t help but think that Payne’s potential accolades would be much more suitable in recognition of Election or Sideways. This is a quietly poignant, sincere drama yet suffers from the dearth of black humour that characterises his best work.

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In the UK 2011 has been quite a year for Ryan Gosling. Blue Valentine was released on the 14th of January, and then in September we saw the release of Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love. By late October The Ides of March hit the cinema screens, making it pretty hard to deny that 2011 is the Year of Ryan Gosling. Not only has Gosling dominated our screens by number of releases, but it is the quality of the films he has been involved in that really makes the difference. Drive was a directorial tour-de-force by Nicholas Winding Refn, which brought out the badass in Gosling. Blue Valentine was a raw and honest portrayal of the fate of a romance without the necessary maintenance. Crazy, Stupid, Love portrayed another failed relationship; this time Gosling took on the role of ladies man/dating coach, to hilarious effect.

This brings us to The Ides of March, a classy political thriller and George Clooney’s fourth feature as director. Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, an idealistic Junior Campaign Manager for the Democrat’s presidential candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney). Meyers is convinced that Morris is the one man in America who can make a difference to the lives of ordinary people, stating “I’ll do or say anything if I believe in it, but I have to believe in the cause.” And he does believe in the cause, until he meets a young intern called Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) and discovers something equivalent to his worst nightmares. From here all hell breaks loose, both within the campaign and within Meyers’ own system of values.

It is here that Ryan Gosling shows us the kind of rounded performance he is capable of. Having convinced us of Meyers’ integrity and idealism, Gosling soon makes the transition to a revenge driven individualist. Unlike Drive where Gosling internalised nearly every emotion, The Ides of March shows him reaching for more raw emotions; in this sense the film has more in common with Blue Valentine. The Ides of March sees Gosling playing wildly divergent character traits within the same character, to utterly convincing effect. With this film Ryan Gosling seems to have skilfully established himself as an actor of some authority, not just ‘one to watch’.

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