George Clooney turns 55 years old today. So, while today is brought to you by the number five, next Friday, as it relates to the salt and peppered one, could be brought to you by the number four. And that wouldn’t be a good thing for the birthday boy.
A week from today, Money Monster opens in theaters. If it underwhelms and underperforms, it’ll mark four straight disappointments for Clooney. I’d say it’d make four outright flops, but I really don’t feel like arguing with Coen Brothers connoisseurs who are going to sell me on the successes of Hail, Caesar!
Four misfires in a row would get most actors and directors thrown in the proverbial movie jail, and while that likely won’t happen to Clooney, it wouldn’t look good.
On the surface, Money Monster has a lot of promise. It’s top-lined by Clooney and Julia Roberts, with Jodie Foster directing. That would have been a dream team in 2001, and though each has lost a few miles off their fastball, it’s still a triumvirate to be taken seriously.
And yet, watching the trailer and seeing all the advertisements, the movie looks like a complete joke. I haven’t seen box office tracking or any reviews, and as of this writing, there’s nothing on Rotten Tomatoes.
If mercilessly mocking the trailer means I’ll look foolish if the movie overperforms, well, it’s worth it. Have you seen this thing? Go watch it. I’ll wait.
Okay. First off, I assume this is not a parody. For the movie’s sake, that doesn’t appear to be a good thing. It’s like a melding of Dog Day Afternoon and Network, the only difference being those movies were intended to be ridiculous. Clooney’s character Lee Gates is a ball busting, risk taking alpha male, not Howard Beale. Let’s just say Sidney Lumet probably would have passed on this.
The trailer indicates that Gates begins the movie as some combination of Jim Cramer and Lloyd Blankfein, and just over an hour later is transformed into a combination of Bernie Sanders and some smelly vagrant in Zuccotti Park. I guess when you’re strapped to a bomb like Gates, anything’s possible, right? Again, if it were a parody, maybe. But this movie seems to take itself very seriously, brooding Springsteen ballad and all.
Let’s give the trailer a breather and go to the movie poster, which reads, “Not Every Conspiracy is a Theory”. What the hell does that even mean? I’ve spent three days trying to figure out if it’s even a logical sentence. Unless Gates and the gunman end up exposing some international assassination conspiracy—which might not be bad because then it’d definitely be a parody—that’s kind of an obnoxious tagline. For a movie that seems hell bent on exposing the elitists who trivialize the fortunes of average people, a self-indulgent slogan like that is pretty elitist in its own right. I guess they needed something a tad subtler than the runner up choice, “This movie is important, goddammit!”
And then we come to the lovely Ms. Roberts, who, when told that this whole financial hostage mish-mash is a “delicate situation,” replies that she’s in close proximity to a bomb, so, “don’t talk to me about delicate situations!” Whew, powerful stuff.
So yeah, this movie feels like a farce and looks dreadful. What’s more, it’s about five years too late. Sure, trashing Wall Street is in vogue thanks in part to the aforementioned Senator from Vermont, but there have been similar movies made that were actually good.
HBO’s Too Big to Fail came out five years ago this month, and told the story of the 2008 financial disaster with gravitas and tact. Hell, even Paul Giamatti kept his scenery chewing to a minimum, something that can’t be said for Clooney in MM. Another film on the same topic, Margin Call, was released in the U.S. five years ago this fall. Like Too Big to Fail, it told the story without bombast and derived its drama from swift dialogue, deft performances, and above all, authenticity. MM is some homeless-looking guy with a gun, dragging a bomb-outfitted Clooney around like a rag doll as they solve the world’s financial problems in real time. Compare that to what Margin Call pulled off as a real time story, and it’s laughable.
The only bright spot for the MM trailer is that it harkens to Inside Man, with the NYPD swarming around a vigilante trying to uncover a conspiracy perpetrated by immoral bankers. Inside Man is a thoroughly entertaining and well made film that coincidentally also involves Jodie Foster and is sort of the best case scenario for what MM could turn out to be. Maybe Clooney and Jack O’Connell will conjure the Inside Man magic of Denzel and Clive Owen. I’m not confident, but let’s hope.
Back to George and what he’s doing. At 55, he’s very likely set for life financially. He recently got married. He can do whatever he wants, including act in crappy movies. It’s tough to blame him for his recent choices, they just haven’t worked out. I can’t knock the guy for taking the chance to direct Damon, Goodman, and Murray in The Monuments Men. I can’t fault him for teaming with Brad Bird and Disney on Tomorrowland. And I can’t blame him for going back to the well with the Coen Brothers, with whom Clooney has had great success in the past. Maybe it’s George, maybe it’s something else, but for whatever reason, he’s had three lackluster showings in a row and needs to turn it around.
I’m no talent manager and Clooney sure as hell doesn’t need my advice, but here it goes. He shouldn’t give up directing, he should just take on smaller projects. I don’t doubt the guy can tell a story, he just needs to reign in the material and the scale. It looks like he may be doing just that in Suburbicon, a movie he’s directing from a Coen Brothers script that, according to loglines, is about humanity, mystery, revenge, and betrayal in a small town. Big themes, small scale. It’s a step in the right direction, and rounding up Matt Damon and Julianne Moore can’t hurt.
Perhaps downsizing could work on the acting side, too. Clooney is a dying breed, one of the few true, old school “movie stars” left on the planet. Doing smaller movies and taking co-starring roles may sound counter-intuitive, but it could work. Hell, it worked in Gravity, which, though it was a big budget studio movie, saw Clooney playing a 1B to Sandra Bullock’s 1A. Perhaps he should take a minor role in the next prestige film he produces, a la Brad Pitt in 12 Years a Slave. And though his most recent ensemble efforts—Caesar and Monuments—didn’t spark, he should stick with them. Again, those choices were both defensible, but he could use an equivalent to what The Big Short was for Pitt.
George Clooney will be fine. Every movie can’t be a winner, and if you do enough of them, there are bound to be a few consecutive clunkers. Despite his recent failures, he should be applauded for taking risks, and should keep taking them. Even if Money Monster tanks, and even if Suburbicon doesn’t land, he’ll still likely be able to get projects made that others simply can’t. He should use that power to keep searching for the next great thing.
It was 29 years ago this week that Clooney guest starred on The Golden Girls as police detective Bobby Hopkins. It’s a classic episode, and Clooney’s Hopkins ends up getting shot by the girls’ neighbors, who are armed and dangerous jewel thieves. Hopkins ended up being okay, as it was only a shot in the arm. Like young Bobby, aging George will be okay, too–his career just needs a shot in the ass.