Having watched THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX last night, I'm now in a position to compare George Clooney's two performances in Fall 2009 movies -- as an executive executioner in UP IN THE AIR, and as a stop-motion-animated fox in TFMF. In both roles, he portrays a man (or male fox) dealing with encroaching middle age. [Spoiler Warnings]
In both movies, Clooney's character attains a relatively comfortable, safe position; and yet chooses to move out of it. Fox is motivated by addition to adrenaline and his own self-infatuation to engage in the same self-endangering (and ultimately family- and neighbor-endangering) behavior that he swore to his wife he'd give up. Ryan Bingham is motivated by a realization of how hollow his hermetically-sealed, commitment-free lifestyle ultimately is. In both movies, Clooney's character endures much pain, and achieves a new equilibrium at the end. The ending of TFMF is much more optimistic than that of UP IN THE AIR -- perhaps because TFMF is an animated movies that might conceivably be shown to kids (although try explaining to them the rat's taunts to Fox about Fox's wife's past), or because of the philosophy of the storytellers.
And both films are ultimately so focused on their main characters that the central drama becomes one man/fox solving his own problems. Is this solipsistic approach to analyzing the angst of men of a certain age the end product of the generation of self-absorption? Or is it simply because Clooney is so magnetic a movie presence that every other conflict in the story is sublimated to his own personal crises?
None of this came up when he was playing Batman.