Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Love: Ides of March

Sometimes George Clooney does these things where he suddenly decides to remind us all of how talented and wonderful he is.  These things are generally called movies, yes, but every few years, right around the time we need to be reminded of how talented and wonderful the Cloon is outside of dashing, debonair acting jobs, he directs.   From the Cloon, we have received Good Night, and Good Luck the stylish bit of black and white that must have been a sort of wet dream for American History teachers.   Now, George Clooney has returned to bring us required Political Science viewing.  Behold: The Ides of March.  Come one, come all to the political circus!  See Ryan Gosling drink the metaphorical kool aid!  Watch as presidential candidates promise change!  Witness earnest young interns as they’re corrupted by big government!  See George Clooney play a Democratic candidate!  Wonder, at the film’s credits, just what, exactly, was achieved!

I’ll be perfectly honest with you:  while the film is all dressed up in the trappings of success, I’m not entirely sure it is one.  What The Ides of March wants to be is a sort of ruthless political thriller.  It talks and walks and finds its award-fodder cast conducting secretive deals in tension-filled moments.   Clooney steps in as Governor Mike Morris, an Obama-influenced democrat from top-to-toe, complete with snazzy screenprinted accessories.  In interviews, town hall forums, and debates, he plays the fresh and honest card, doling out neatly packaged sound bites on everything from religion to the death penalty.   He’s a background character here, the man the story is centered on, but not the true subject of the on-screen plot.  As we enter, we find Morris in the days leading up to the Ohio primary.  Behind the scenes, the campaign managers are ruthlessly hunting down public endorsements, negotiating terms and conditions, and doing everything in their power to get the edge on their Republican rival.  Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is the 30-year old political prodigy playing second-in-command to jaded vet Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman).  He’s impossibly slick, a master of the jargon and the public games who, amazingly, still holds some real faith in the man he’s supporting.  Stephen is fairly enthusiastic as Washington insiders go.  He has ideals, and he holds onto them until the moment his pretty glass castle shatters.  It shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise: open on: optimism,  close on: you guessed it…

What’s most interesting about The Ides of March is that, for a political film shot out of Hollywood, it doesn’t take sides in the red state vs. blue state debacle. What we get is a behind the scenes glance at the process itself, the way the public is manipulated, the strings that are pulled, the sheer amount of work that goes into getting enough backing to shoot any one person to the top.  I’d imagine that for an individual who still holds some sort of naïve hope in the American democratic system, this is a rather dark affair.  Needless to say, I’m not one of those optimistic folk, and from my standing The Ides of March fails to probe deeper, to harness any sort of electricity, or to really push past the “oh hey, look, politics is a dirty game” cliché.  Ultimately, while the performances are solid, there’s nothing to challenge the actors involved.  This isn't a thriller.  Not really.  It’s easy for the talented folks involved to be on top of their game because, frankly, Ides never calls for anything past a few instances of theatrical banter or the occasional crushed spirit.  

Oh, how I yearned for an Aaron Sorkin presence here, a bit of snap and vigor to amplify the complicated going-ons of our tireless campaigners.    There are hints of great political allegory, and greater complication.  The story ignores them, opting instead to run with easy outs, unnecessary twists, expected turns, and morally fraught black and white convictions.  You’re good or you’re bad, you win or you lose, your numbers go up or they go down, you live or you die, but there’s little room for being human.  There are, in my eyes, two key turning points within the film.  In the first: a character with a serious conflict is revealed.  In the second:  that character is removed from the equation quickly, in a way that seemed (to me) incredibly unbelievable and wholly problematic.  While The Ides of March is another competent film from Clooney, intelligently directed and, in some ways provocative, it falls short of winning my vote.   Here we have another story detailing the messy side of politics, an ideological standpoint I could easily get behind, but failing to dig any deeper.  Show me what happens next, Clooney.  Show me what happens when all hope dies and do it, please, without the soapy melodrama. 


  1. Not sure if I'd watch this. Okay, George Clooney, but... there are others I'm more curious for.

  2. This is entertaining even if suspense barely builds and pay-off revelations come with little surprise. Clooney, as a director, is also able to draw-out amazing performances from this whole ensemble cast. Great review.

  3. Im worried this is going to be a film about george clooney, and george clooney alone. THE ONLY FILM that clooney is in that i DONT HATE is "up in the air" cause its basically him. I worry that Ides of march is trying too hard to be an oscar contender with too many chefs!

  4. @Mette - I agree with you. I was interested, but really only watched it to bide my time...

    @Dan O. - The pay-off is indeed minimal.

    @Bianca- One thing this isn't is a movie about George Clooney. It's all about Gosling, but, you know, not the fun Gosling...


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