[normally this column appears on Tuesdays, except for this week]
When this year began with The Artist, and after I saw it at Cannes, my immediate thoughts about 2011 Oscar year to come was that we were done with the films that dwelled on the darker aspects of humanity, and that now we were ready for some light to flood back in. This was pronounced last year when The King’s Speech, a feelgood movie about overcoming a disability, triumphed over The Social Network, a film about success and its cost.
The notion of hero will take many forms this year. A general manager of a baseball team, a silent movie star threatened with extinction, a father whose wife is in a coma. The strange thing about these heroes is that, in the same year, the actors who play them dip into the dark side too. When we have to choose between those two opposing representations of an actor, what do we choose? This occurred to me last night while watching George Clooney play one of the darkest characters of his career in the film he also directed, The Ides of March.
With the light in half shadow over his by now familiar face, a face we all know so well we could trace his features with our eyes closed. But here, his charm has utterly vanished. This is the hard, cold game of cutthroat politics and his ass is on the line. You can smell the fear. Clooney has delivered a performance that leaves no trace of doubt as to his moral center: it doesn’t exist. He has been changed by the very game he is trying to win. This performance is contrasted dramatically by his work in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, Clooney’s character who must endure the loss of his wife while trying to make a life with his emotionally scattered daughters.