Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Ides of March

2011. Dir: George Clooney. Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood. ●●●●○

I've not seen "Farrugut North", Beau Eillimon's play that forms the basis of George Clooney and Grant Heslov's latest venture, so far as I know the play hasn't made it to the UK, however right now I don't feel that I need to. Ides of March hews so closely to a theatrical experience that seeing it live can hardly bring much more to the story. The inherent staginess of the adaptation is hard for this movie to shake off, it's structure and style of moving from room to room with powerfully dressed men with distressed ties underlines how little has been changed. That said, in spite of this limitation, it's themes of loyalty and corruption (mirroring the more successful Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) are presented so thoroughly and realistically that the quality of the screenplay and acting pushes through.

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) may only be 30 but he's a veteran of political campaigning, something he's very keen to stress to Marisa Tomei's political hack in an early pace setting introduction, and after years of backing the wrong horse he's finally found a Presidential candidate he can believe in, a man whose proto-Liberal values are only matched by his personal integrity, ladies and gentleman I give you the next president of the United States, Senator (and co-writer/director) George Clooney.

Anyone who's ever watched a political film will know that Clooney isn't all he seems to be, and in this modern sex-crazed post Clinton world it's hardly going to his atheism that's going to be his undoing. Not that Meyers guesses it, he goes right on with his hubristically unchallenged behaviour, seducing intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) and getting played by rival strategist Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) until both storylines collide dramatically turning Meyers from wide eyed idolised to deft spin-doctor.

Much has been said about how Ides recalls Political thrillers from the 70's with it's intense paranoia, but to me it most closely resembles Gore Vidal's tight 1964 screenplay for The Best Man, that too was a fraught political fight between two prospective Presidential candidates set in one city during hustings, and like this modern antecedent the drama came from guys whispering poll figures, however where Henry Fonda was a flawed but moralistic politician trying to do the best for his party and desperated avoiding mudslinging, here Clooney is sidelined. Modern politics has taken the candidate, the celebrity, out of the picture, now we're more concerned with the spinners on the sides and everyone accepts the personal is part of the game.

This is an actor's wet dream, with everyone on top form. Evan Rachel Wood as the intern whose sexual precociousness hides an inner turmoil is superb, and watching Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman as two old school campaigners, with their personal vendettas and careful strategies, is a joy. Hoffman has the best scene in the movie, a rip roaring speech on loyalty that somehow seems out of touch with the modern world. All this would be for nothing if Gosling couldn't handle the lead role, bringing the same blank canvas he displayed in Drive the character arc seems both irresistible and inevitable, and the final scene, of Gosling looking to camera about to give the most important interview of his life, will no doubt be one of the most hotly discussed cliffhangers of 2011 cinema.

This movie is also designed to within an inch of it's life, no decoration, no lighting set-up is left to chance, we're in no doubt that this is a movie about politics (even if it's not about Politics) from the stuffed campaign office with it's inspirational posters to the functional hotel rooms and dimly lit bars there is a real sense of place in each of the scenes. Clooney also does a good job as director keeping the tension and unpredictability of the characters even when you can see the direction where the plot is heading.

Overall I would recommend this film, of course I'm the crowd it's playing to, but it's presentation of the modern political game is both damning and compelling and short of the play coming to your town this is the next best thing.


TomS said...

A very astute and enjoyable review! I have yet to see this but it is definitely on my to-see list. You paint an intriguing portrait; your comparison to
1970's paranoid-political films is interesting to me.
I have a lot to catch up with on your've done some good pieces in the last couple weeks, and I will be back to share my thoughts!

Runs Like A Gay said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the encouragement.

Ides is well worth catching up with when you get a chance.