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IMAGE: Clooney
Focus Features
In "The American," which opens Sept. 1, George Clooney plays Jack, an assassin who retreats to Italy after a job goes bad. He's no James Bond, but there's a Bond-like sense about him.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 8/25/2010 11:42:47 AM ET 2010-08-25T15:42:47

The James Bond films are on hold indefinitely, thanks to money woes at MGM, the studio behind the spy series. But there's another movie character hitting theaters this month, and viewers could be forgiven if they thought he looked a little bit familiar.

In "The American," which opens Sept. 1, George Clooney plays Jack, an assassin who retreats to Italy after a job goes bad. He's no James Bond, but there's a Bond-like sense about him.

“Cubby Broccoli (the late producer of the Bond films) had Cary Grant in mind to play James Bond,” explained Rick Jewell, film professor at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, who teaches a class in Bond. “Of course, by that time (1962), Grant was too old to do it. But that was the model of James Bond he worked from, that kind of suave, incredibly handsome individual who also had a comic side to him. Someone who could be highly effective as an action hero, but also a romantic hero as well.

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“For my money, George Clooney very nearly fills the bill. I’m sure they would have considered him except for one thing: that he is American and not British. Over the years they decided they were never going to cast somebody who wasn’t at least from the British Empire.”

“The American” does not fit snugly in the Bond milieu. Whereas Bond tangled with villains spawned from novelist Ian Fleming’s boundless imagination, and he did so in travelogue locales, Clooney’s hired assassin operates on grittier turf. Jack is more of a loner, hiding out in Italy waiting for a final assignment, and pursuing romance with a local woman rather than a seductress named Solitaire, Honey Ryder or Pussy Galore.

Like a golden age star
But it is Clooney’s movie star presence — a potent blend of brains, looks and charisma — that enables him to add Bond-like class to just about any film.

“I think he has an inherent likeability and native intelligence that aligns him with the stars of the golden age of Hollywood, like Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant,” said Scott Foundas, associate program director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center and a contributor to Film Comment magazine. “There are not many contemporary stars who invite those comparisons,” Foundas added. “He does.”

In 2005, upon the release of the Clooney-directed biopic of Edward R. Murrow, “Good Night, and Good Luck,” Foundas wrote a lengthy piece about Clooney for L.A. Weekly and found him to be engaging as a human being rather than as a star trying to be perceived as a human being.

Review: 'The American' is a bleak, haunting thriller

“You certainly don’t feel with Clooney that he’s trying to sell you a bill of goods,” Foundas said. “When I wrote that piece, a friend of mine who I didn’t know at the time had worked for Clooney’s company told me he has some personality tics, like the way he leans into you to make a point. But that’s how he is. He isn’t putting on an act for a journalist. He is who he is. That definitely comes through.

“Sometimes in those situations you feel that people are trying to project an image of themselves, rather than just being themselves. Not with Clooney. That quality is connected to his popularity with audiences.”

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Foundas also noted that Clooney makes excellent choices in roles, and he thinks that may partly be the result of “a long time struggling in actor hell in the ‘80s and even ‘90s, when he was sort of going nowhere, going from one TV sitcom after another.”

“There is a certain wisdom that comes with age,” he continued. “Clooney was almost 40 before he became a big star.”

Choosing smart parts
Peter Debruge, film critic for Daily Variety, said Clooney came out of television’s “ER” and was “big screen ready.” Since then, he not only has made wise choices, but also bold ones.

“He seems to be unusually intelligent, and therefore he’s a good judge of material,” Debruge said. “That’s also borne with his involvement as a producer, including things he hasn’t starred in. He was a producer on ‘The Informant!’ which I felt was an underrated, very smart piece of material that didn’t perform too well. He definitely has a sense of humor, which you can find repeatedly in his work, even in things he directed.

“For instance, ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’ was sort of a thinking man’s satire. It wasn’t a farce, it wasn’t too broad, and it definitely shows someone who is trying to challenge his audience.”

And that doesn’t sound like someone trying to emulate James Bond. “When you’re sort of a dapper looking star, you can coast on your good looks,” Debruge said. “Clooney has not chosen to do that.”

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Still, USC’s Jewell feels there isn’t that much of a distance between Clooney the spy in “The American” and Bond, and he only wishes the powers-that-be in Hollywood who cast the Bond films would agree with him (although he said he likes Daniel Craig, who currently occupies the part, if another installment ever gets made).

“Obviously he’s one of the more handsome guys going in movies,” Jewell said of Clooney. “Up until James Bond came along, a lot of spies in movies were Hollywood type actors like Alan Ladd and Fred MacMurray. They certainly were good looking guys, but they didn’t have the sexual charisma that Sean Connery brought to the role.

“I think Clooney has that. He’s handsome, but he also has some kind of indefinable quality that makes him attractive to the opposite sex.”

Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to TODAYshow.com. He lives in Los Angeles.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: 'The American': Sept. 1

Photos: George Clooney

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  1. Center stage

    George Clooney accepts the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film on Nov. 9, 2013 at the BAFTA LA Jaguar Britannia Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Michael Buckner/bafta La / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Culturally sensitive

    In Clooney's upcoming film "The Monuments Men," which he co-wrote, produced, directed and stars in, he appears (with Matt Damon) as a member of an Allied platoon in WWII tasked with saving priceless artworks before they are destroyed by Nazis. (Claudette Barius / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Second best

    Fans of Clooney love to pose with his image, even if it isn't the real deal. Here, members of the public say "cheese" alongside a waxwork model of the actor in London on Feb. 13, 2013. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Lost in space

    In "Gravity," Clooney plays veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, who is stranded in space after debris strikes the space shuttle where he is working. (Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Picture / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Lady in red

    Sandra Bullock and Clooney stroll the red carpet together at the premiere of their new film "Gravity" on Aug. 28, 2013, which opened the Venice International Film Festival. (Ettore Ferrari / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Star power

    Clooney takes a boat to the Lido Beach at the 70th annual Venice International Film Festival on Aug. 27, 2013. He was there to promote his new film "Gravity," which was shown out of competition at the event. (Ettore Ferrari / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Three amigos

    On Feb. 24, 2013 Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and Clooney take home the most prestigious Academy Award, a Best Picture prize for "Argo." Affleck starred, directed and produced; Clooney and Heslov, who often collaborate on films, were also producers on the film. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Standing for a cause

    Clooney is arrested during a demonstration outside the Embassy of Sudan in Washington on March 16, 2012. United to End Genocide, the Enough Campaign and Amnesty International held a rally to call on the United States and world leaders to stop the violence in South Sudan and prevent hundreds of thousands of people from starving. Clooney and several others, including his father, were released hours later. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Testify!

    Clooney smiles as he testifies at the Senate Foreign Relations Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington on March 14, 2012. (Kris Connor / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Oscar nominee

    Clooney, a best actor nominee for his role in "The Descendants," and his girlfriend Stacy Keibler arrive at the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Calif., on Feb. 26, 2012. Clooney lost to "The Artist" star Jean Dujardin. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Another Golden night

    Clooney and Keibler pose with his award for best actor in a motion picture -- drama for "The Descendants," backstage at the 69th annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 15, 2012. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Critics love him

    Clooney accepts the best actor award for "The Descendants" onstage during the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at The Hollywood Palladium on Jan. 12, 2012. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Clooney for president!

    Clooney stars as a governor running for president in 2011's "Ides of March." Ryan Gosling plays his idealistic staffer who is quickly introduced to the dirty side of politics. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Men of the year

    Gosling and Clooney pose at "The Ides Of March" premiere on Sept. 27, 2011 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. In the director's chair

    Clooney doesn't just star in "Ides of March," he produced, co-wrote and directed the film. Here he reviews footage with co-stars Evan Rachel Wood and Gosling. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Name game

    Clooney signs autographs as he arrives at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of his film "The Descendants" on Sept. 10, 2011. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Backseat driver

    Clooney and Shailene Woodley are shown in a scene from the 2011 film "The Descendants," in which he plays a Hawaiian land baron. (New York Film Festival via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. That's life

    A tanned and happy Clooney arrives for the 68th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Supporting South Sudan

    Clooney attends voting ceremonies during the first day of voting for the independence referendum in the southern Sudanese city of Juba on Jan. 9, 2011. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Night of honors

    Clooney and then-girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis attend the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights' 2010 Ripple of Hope Awards dinner honoring Clooney, Robert Smith and Marc Spilker on Nov. 17, 2010 in New York. (Kimihiro Hoshino / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Talking to the president

    Clooney met with President Barack Obama to discuss issues involving Sudan on Oct. 12, 2010, in Washington. (Pete Souza / The White House via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Saving Sudan

    Clooney was joined by TODAY's Ann Curry on a South Sudan visit in Oct. 2010. The actor says the international community needs to step in. "If we get involved now, we have a shot," he tells TODAY. (Tim Freccia / The Enough Project) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Armed and dangerous

    With James Bond on hiatus due to MGM's money woes, can Clooney fill the bill as the suave action hero of filmdom? Clooney, shown with Thekla Reuten, stars as an assassin who finds himself in trouble in scenic Italy in 2010's "The American." (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Seeking justice

    Clooney leaves Milan's law courts after testifying against three individuals accused of fraudulently using his name to promote a fashion label at Palazzo di Giustizia on July 16, 2010 in Milan, Italy. The actor testified as a civil plaintiff during the trial against the individuals running fashion label GC Exclusive by George Clooney. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. He's our guy

    Clooney accepts the Guy of the Year award at Spike TV "Guy's Choice" awards in Culver City, Calif., on Saturday, June 5, 2010. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Lady in red

    Clooney and girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis attend the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theater on Sunday, March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, Calif. (Dan MacMedan / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. The Reitman stuff

    Clooney and director Jason Reitman attend a news conference for "Up In The Air" during Day 3 of the Rome Film Festival at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome on Saturday, October 17, 2009. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. When in Rome ...

    George Clooney and Italian actress Elisabetta Canalis walk the red carpet before a screening of the movie "Up in The Air" at the 4th edition of the Rome Film Festival, on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Looking 'Up'

    Clooney plays an unapologetic corporate downsizer whose untethered life is consumed by collecting air miles in the film "Up in The Air." (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Got their 'Goat'

    Clooney stars with Ewan McGregor in "The Men Who Stare at Goats," a film about a down-on-his-luck reporter (McGregor) who gets more than he bargains for when he meets a special forces agent (Clooney) who reveals the existence of a secret, psychic military unit whose goal is to use paranormal powers to end war as we know it. (Overture Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Compassionate visit

    Clooney meets residents as he tours earthquake damage on the sidelines of a G8 summit, in St. Eusanio, near L'Aquila, Italy, on Thursday, July 9, 2009. (Alessandra Tarantino / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. High-level access

    Clooney speaks to the media following a meeting with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington on Monday, Feb. 23, 2009. Clooney was urging the new administration to take action on the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Movie night with dad

    Clooney joins his father, veteran journalist Nick Clooney, for a screening of the film "Good Night, and Good Luck," and a journalism panel at the Newseum in Washington on Monday, Jan. 26, 2009. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. He's used to whistles

    Clooney and Renee Zellweger, stars of the film "Leatherheads," arrive at the Historic Salisbury Station in Salisbury, N.C, on March 26, 2008, on the third stop on a Whistle Stop Express tour to promote their film . (Peter Taylor / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. The usual laughs

    Clooney and Frances McDormand star in the 2008 Coen Brothers film "Burn After Reading" about two gym employees who try to blackmail a CIA agent over a computer disk containing his memoirs. (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Throwback

    Clooney is touted as "The Last Movie Star" on the cover of the March 3, 2008, issue of Time magazine. "He's a throwback to what movie stars used to be," friend Grant Heslov says in the article. "You see him and you think, Wouldn't that be a great life?" (Time) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. It's a snap

    Clooney directs and stars in "Leatherheads," a romantic comedy set in the world of 1920s football, where the owner of a professional team drafts a strait-laced college sensation, only to watch his new coach fall for his fiancée. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Boots on the ground

    Clooney, who has been designated as U.N. messenger of peace by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, visits the Zamzam refugee camp in North Darfur, Sudan, in late January 2008. (UNAMID via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. He comes in peace

    Clooney speaks at at news conference at United Nations headquarters in New York on Jan. 31, 2008, after being designated a messenger of peace. Clooney was joining eight other well-known individuals to campaign for U.N. causes. (Stephen Chernin / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Lucky 'Thirteen'

    In "Ocean's Thirteen," Danny Ocean (Clooney) rounds up the boys for a third heist and they're out for revenge after casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) cuts one of the original 11, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), out of a deal. (Warner Bros. Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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Discuss: What's your favorite Clooney role?

Are you a fan of him as Doug Ross on "ER," or as Ryan Bingham in "Up in the Air"?

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