Following the success of ER, George Clooney cemented his status as a bankable movie star in this tense thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh. He takes on the role of a skilled bank robber who is attempting to keep one step ahead of the cops as well as a competing gang.
Clooney has a propensity for choosing intelligent films to direct, even if they don’t always appear to match him on paper. He is a filmmaker. There are several prominent instances, including Michael Clayton, The Ides of March, and Burn After Reading.
1. The American
One of George Clooney’s earliest big-screen roles after ER, this smart and charming thriller marked the beginning of his transformation into an unstoppable solar movies star. Playing wise-cracking mercenary Matt Kowalski, the actor gives the character his trademark twinkle as he goes on the lam from a bank heist after being mistaken for a trained killer.
Anton Corbijn’s film isn’t a typical action movie—it’s a slender psychological profile of a professional assassin who lies low in a picturesque Old World Italian village after a recent kill. While there’s plenty of violence and tension, the thrills come from surrendering to the slow and methodical examination of this morose but remarkably talented operative. Clooney delivers a deeply felt and surprisingly touching performance. The film also stars Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten and Paolo Bonacelli.
2. The Monuments Men
George Clooney is one of those rare actors who can seem at ease and in command amidst tense or thrilling scenarios. He was terrific in the 2013 space drama Gravity, where he and Sandra Bullock played astronauts stranded after a NASA vessel encounters a storm.
He’s also made a series of thoughtful films with the likes of Michael Clayton, The Ides of March, and Money Monster. And in Wes Anderson’s rustic stopmotion treatise Moonrise Kingdom, he was a charming gent who led a gang of misfits looking to steal livestock from farmers.
In The Monuments Men, he co wrote and directed a sympathetic depiction of the men-on-a-mission World War II effort to save treasure troves of looted art from the Nazis. But the movie wears its noble purpose on its sleeve, and a little more grit or irreverence could have brought it a much wider audience.
3. The Big Lebowski
After ER, Clooney proved he was more than just a TV actor by starring in groovy, offbeat genre films like From Dusk Till Dawn and Out of Sight, as well as saving a sinking comic book franchise (Batman & Robin). Then, he went behind the camera to direct the political thriller Michael Clayton.
The Coen brothers’ dark, funny follow-up to Point Break landed Clooney another big movie hit. He plays Jack Foley, an escaped prisoner who tries to stay one step ahead of the law and a rival gang while on the hunt for a cache of diamonds. A sweet riff on his own Danny Ocean from Ocean’s Eleven, this film is a daft gem that showcases the actor’s easy charm. He also starred in the tense drama Leatherheads and the CIA comedy Burn After Reading.
4. The Descendants 2
George Clooney may be a charming leading man, but he also has the ability to seem in command during stressful and thrilling films. He demonstrates that in Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 space drama Gravity, where he plays the ship’s captain after it suffers through a catastrophic storm.
After leaving ER, Clooney made a quick impression with groovy genre flicks (From Dusk Till Dawn and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and blockbusters (Ocean’s Eleven). His directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was an idiosyncratic, entertaining blend of comedy, crime, and nonlinear narrative structure.
Clooney can make any movie more watchable by bringing his charm and charisma to the role. Unfortunately, he struggles to do so in Money Monster, where he stars as a soulless Jim Cramer-type TV host. It’s not his best work. Thankfully, he’s more than capable of self-parody as in the Coen Brothers’ wry comedy Hail, Caesar!
5. Money Monster
After ER, Clooney hit his stride with a slew of groovy genre flicks and blockbusters. But it was this film that gave him a newfound heft as a leading man and cemented his status as a serious actor. It’s an updated Treasure of the Sierra Madre and a damning indictment of America’s presence abroad, and it features some of Clooney’s best acting.
A slew of awards-season nominations and a Best Actor Oscar nod followed. Here, he plays Ryan Bigham, a corporate downsizer whose job is to travel between cities and inform workers that they are being laid off. It’s a tough assignment and Clooney gives the role his all. He has a knack for playing wounded men — see Danny Ocean, Ulysses Everitt McGill from Up in the Air and his turn as Scheisskopf in Catch-22.