Which Clooney is Better: The Actor or the Director?

In the next two months, George Clooney will release his fourth movie as a director (The Ides of March, out in theaters this Friday) and twenty-sixth as a featured actor (The Descendants, set for release on November 18). That got us thinking about which version of Clooney we've been most impressed with in recent years, the one in front of the camera or the one behind it. Here's the way George Clooney, Actor and George Clooney, Director match up against each other in five key areas.

There was a period somewhere around One Fine Day, The Peacemaker and, especially, Batman & Robin where it appeared that the breakout ER star might be headed down David Caruso's path as a TV phenom that couldn't make the leap to the big screen. Unlike Caruso though, Clooney regrouped and starting with 1998's Out of Sight, became much smarter about picking projects. Of the fourteen live-action star vehicles he's headlined since that Soderbergh crime classic, only three (Solaris, Intolerable Cruelty and The Good German) are out-and-out duds and those qualify as noble failures rather than epic botches a la Batman & Robin. That's one of the strongest batting averages in the business. As a director, meanwhile, he's broken even. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck are both strong films, while Leatherheads was a step backwards and advanced word on The Ides of March suggests that it also falls on the mediocre side. 50 percent consistency isn't bad, but it ain't 80 percent.
Winner: George Clooney, Actor

As an actor, Clooney is a great movie star. That means that he does his most effective work in movies that take full advantage of his charm, charisma and, yes, great looks -- think the Ocean's series, Up in the Air and Three Kings. While we appreciate that Clooney does try to stretch himself on occasion, with more sober performances in quieter, artsier fare like The American and Solaris, he always seems somewhat out of place. Some actors thrive when they have to rein themselves in; in this case, it's best to let Clooney be Clooney. As a director though, Clooney has proven himself capable of juggling lots of different styles, genres and tones. Confessions is a clever spin on the usual biopic formula, Good Night is a black-and-white docudrama, Leatherheads is a period sports comedy and March is an up-to-the-minute political drama. As we've already noted, not all of these movies have been complete successes overall, but Clooney's direction has proven itself very adaptable to the material he's shooting. One gets the sense that, had he been working during the Golden Age of Hollywood, he would have been one of those journeymen directors that jumped from comedies, to dramas, to Westerns without breaking a sweat.
Winner: George Clooney, Director

Awards & Acclaim
Clooney has been nominated for an acting Oscar three times (with a fourth likely on the way for The Descendants) and took home a Best Supporting Actor statue for his role in the 2005 thriller Syriana. (That performance also nabbed him his second Golden Globe; he had previously won for Best Actor in a Comedy for 2000's O Brother, Where Art Thou?.) Good Night brought him his first -- and so far only -- nomination for Best Director, which he lost to Ang Lee. Critically he's deadlocked: Clooney's last ten movies as an actor (not counting the ones he's directed as well as starred in) have an average Metacritic score of 67, the same average as his three directorial efforts (though that number drops to 65 if you take the early reviews for Ides into account). So it's a close race, but Oscar gold lends one side extra weight.
Winner: George Clooney, Actor

Sharing the Screen
Clooney has always been a remarkably generous performer; even in movies that are specifically designed for him (Up In the Air, Michael Clayton and Three Kings to name a few), he gives his co-stars plenty of opportunity to shine. But he's even happier to cede the spotlight in the movies he directs, casting himself in a supporting role three out of four times. (Leatherheads is the only one where he's the obvious lead.) Furthermore, he surrounds himself with exceptionally strong ensembles when he's behind the camera as well. With Ides he adds such impressive names as Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei to the roll call of actors he's directed, which also includes Sam Rockwell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson and John Krasinski. That's an excellent Rolodex right there.
Winner: George Clooney, Director

Box Office
This one is a cakewalk. Driven by blockbusters like Ocean's Eleven and The Perfect Storm, Clooney boasts a lifetime career gross of $1.4 billion as an actor. Taken together, his three directorial efforts have banked almost $80 million collectively. So... yeah. Financially, his name still means more when it's above the title rather than following the credit, "Directed by."
Winner: George Clooney, Actor

For now at least, Clooney's acting-only gigs net the biggest returns in terms of acclaim and cold hard cash. But creatively, some of his most interesting films have been the ones he's directed and he's apparently had no problems convincing great actors to work with him in that capacity. As much as we enjoy him as a movie star, we're more eager to see what his next directing gig is going to be.

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