Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: "The Ides of March"

George Clooney and Ryan Gosling were the belles of the ball at last month's Toronto International Film Festival. Both men are Hollywood darlings, with Clooney winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor forSyriana (2005) and Gosling receiving a 2006 Best Actor nomination for Half Nelson. The two men were in Toronto to promote two films each, but it was their collaboration that earned the lion's share of media attention. George Clooney directed, co-wrote and stars in The Ides of March, adapted from Beau Williamson's 2005 play Farragut North. Clooney takes a backseat to Gosling in the film, which also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and an excellent Evan Rachel Wood. Williamson's play is based on the 2004 Democratic primary campaign of Howard Dean. The title of the film, The Ides of March, is a slightly confusing title. It is not a retelling of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, but the name may stem from the Democratic primary in Ohio, which occurred in March. There is, however, some allusions to Caesar through dishonesty and betrayal. The Ides of March is a superb political thriller with a fantastic central performance by Ryan Gosling. There are obvious comparisons to Mike Nichols' 1998 film Primary Colors, but George Clooney's film is far darker and finely paced. Clooney, as director, has paid a lot of attention to details and the lighting is intriguing. Politics is about backroom deals and shadows and the film captures this. George Clooney has shown considerable growth as a director since Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) (and yes, I am excluding Leatherheads (2008)). The Ideas of March is supremely well acted by all principal actors and the finished product is a sharp and cleverly paced political thriller that leaves you wondering and conjecturing well after the fade to black.

Stephen Myers (Gosling) is the Junior Campaign Manager for Mike Morris (Clooney), Governor of Pennsylvania and Democratic presidential candidate. Stephen reports directly to Paul Zara (Hoffman), Senior Campaign Manager and is well known for his media savvy. Stephen believes Morris is one only remaining honest man in politics. The campaign is in Cincinnati, Ohio as they prepare for the Ohio primary. After a debate Stephen is contacted by Tom Duffy (Giamatti), his rival Campaign Manager. Tom offers Stephen a job and a tells him that the Ohio primary is over because Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) of North Carolina has already promised to endorse his candidate. Tom believes Stephen is too idealistic and will soon become as jaded as everyone else in politics. Stephen does not immediately tell Paul about the meeting. At the office, Stephen becomes involved in a relationship with Molly (Wood), an intern and daughter of the chairman of the Democratic National Convention. Stephen's relationship with Molly unearths some dark truths about Morris and his career is put in jeopardy when a New York Times reporter, Ida Horowicz (Tomei) learns of his conversation with Tom Duffy. What follows is a mess of betrayal that Stephen could not possibly have envisioned.

On October 6 Ontario had a Provincial election. Most Ontarians seemed to be apathetic, as only forty percent of registered voters turned out to vote. Would Canadian politics be as entertaining if we idealized politicians the same way American politicians are revered? The Ides of March does a terrific job of making politics, and especially the monotony of the Democratic primaries, seem more than mildly interesting. Clooney used shadows and camera angles to establish more drama and intimacy within the film. Stephen and Molly's relationship came across as very sincere, though we are left to wonder just how many plot points were built on honesty. There is a great scene at a bar where Stephen and Molly's flirtation reaches a new level. The camera zooms right in on their faces as sexuality oozes from the screen. It is one of the film's best scenes. George Clooney has repeatedly said he is more interested in directing than acting. He certainly has a gift for it and I would not be surprised to see Clooney become more like Clint Eastwood later in his career. Ryan Gosling has also hinted at retiring from acting and it would be a real shame for us to lose such a talented actor. He is one of many bright spots in the The Ides of March, one of the best acted ensemble films of the year. The Ides of March, an intense political thriller about one man's loss of innocence, is a intricately plotted film that keeps your attention from the great opening scene to its final, argument-causing shot.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

1 comment:

  1. This film was a delight from start to finish for me and it was not so much the overly funny or dramatic moments, it was the dexterity with which both were handled. The cadence of the storytelling was deceptively soothing such that even events which you knew were coming took me emotionally by surprise. I agree with Matt's assessment about the pitch perfect nature of Clooney and Gosling's performances but for me it was the strength of the writing which shone through on this one.

    From quiet little moments which foreshadow coming events to silly little exchanges which serve to increase the pathos later in the film, this one felt much more like a play than I expected. How fitting then that its title serves to invoke the emotional turmoil of Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar. While I don't necessarily believe this was written to be an adaptation of the play, there's no arguing that it was certainly informed by the work. What's more, the cinematography and staging was absolutely superb. It well and truly became a part of the story, guiding us through the underlying themes with a gentle and practiced hand. Too many films these days forget how impactful the medium can truly be.

    From beginning to end this one was engaging and enjoyable. And yes, we did have an arguement in the car on the way home ;)

    See it, I beg of you.

    Also, this gave me a hankering to re-watch the West Wing.

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