Out of Sight 1998 ****

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Scott Frank adapts Elmore Leonard’s book for this Steven Soderberg thriller, featuring a typically confident performance from George Clooney and a surprisingly good one from Jennifer Lopez, cast as Karen Sisco, an unlikely US Marshall. She’s on the tail of Jack Foley (Clooney) a bank-robber who breaks out of jail; a scene in which they share a cramped intimacy in the trunk of a car cements their attraction. The tough guy stuff is compellingly handled, with Michael Keaton reprising his Jackie Brown role, but it’s the unusual romantic angle that makes Out Of Sight work; Lopez strikes sparks in a role originally intended for Sandra Bullock.

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The Descendants 2011 ***

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Alexander Payne goes lush and glossy in this pre-Nebraska drama, but his world-view is as sharp as ever. George Clooney plays Hawaiian Matt King, whose wife lies in a coma after a boating accident, and who is struggling to reconnect with his daughter Alexandre (Divergent star Shailene Woodley) . Discovering that his wife was having an affair, he pulls his family together on an unlikely bonding mission; to track down the man responsible. This meshes with a wider storyline in which Clooney has to decide who in his family should inherit a slice of coastline; The Descendants looks carefully at the moral issues involved and comes to the conclusion that the right thing can be done for the wrong reason; Clooney and Woodley both rise to the task of creating a real, complex father-daughter relationship.

Three Kings 1999 ***

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Pre American Hustle work from David O Russell, this Gulf War drama with a difference is a key film in his canon, demonstrating that he could deal with big stars and action while retaining his indie style. Russell and star George Clooney reportedly came to fisticuffs during filming, but if there was on-set tension, it doesn’t show in this heist film with a difference. Archie Gates (Clooney) and Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) are US soldiers who gets wind of a stash of hidden gold. She soldiers have selfish motives for their adventure, but the find themselves politicalised, and end up helping a group of Iraqi insurgents who are rebelling against Saddam Hussein.  David O Russell makes this tale of mercenaries turned freedom fighters into a comic parable, staging one action sequence to the strains of Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now and there ‘s also a notable torture sequence in which Troy is made to drink oil but his captors. A forerunner of Clooney’s Monuments Men, Three Kings is a war film that doesn’t reply on patriotism, but attempts to establish a common good across racial and international borders.

Gravity 2013 ***

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It’s not a Alfonso Cuaron film until something gets splashed on the camera, although it’s not still the final scene that something finally hits the lens. The director’s gift for scope, technical excellence and character are all in effect in his 2013 blockbuster, which sports barely 80 minutes of action but keeps up an unremitting intensity as Ryan (Sandra Bullock) attempts to find her way back to earth with the smallest possible bump. Ryan’s back story, her daughter died in a playground accident, is minimally sketched in, but such minimalism is part of the strength of Cauron’s film, with amusing work from George Clooney as her Buzz Lightyear-like companion Kowalski. The real star of Gravity is the way in which a natural force is both hero and villain, threatening and saving Ryan at the same time, and beautifully wrought by impossibly complex special effects that make Ryan’s situation easy to understand. The short film Aningaaq should be viewed as a comedown immediately afterwards; seeing Gravity at home is like viewing snaps taken of a spectacular holiday, not the same experience, but a way of remembering a journey shared.