By theredraylives | February 2, 2012
The Ides of March
dir. George Clooney
Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, George Clooney
Three and a half out of Five Stars
If there is anything good to be said about The Ides of March, it’s that it isn’t at all a bad film. It is certainly interesting, and entertaining, and a good way to spend an evening, now that it’s out on Blu Ray and DVD. It boasts an excellent cast and some great directing on the part of Clooney, it is dark and brooding and ulterior motives bubble beneath everyone’s façade. Yet, ultimately, the film’s predictability and “politics as usual” tone end up dragging it down and it leaves the whole experience rather mediocre. In this day of extremely cutthroat and partisan politics, a film like this doesn’t come as a surprise, it isn’t refreshing, and gives nothing interesting to take away from it after it’s over. As an audience, we expect everyone to be crooked, we expect there to be far more going on beneath the surface, and if a film is going to approach this subject matter it needs to do so in a compelling manner so as to give something memorable and tangible long after it ends. The Ides of March is not where you’ll find anything of the sort.
Ryan Gosling is really the heart of this film and his performance is nothing short of excellent. He stars here as Stephen Meyers, a campaign manager for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), a campaign about which he is hopeful and idealistic. He views the governor through rose-colored glasses, and the audience looks through the same lenses for the better part of the film. He is moral, he is honest, and he is virtuous- everything that one’s experience of politicians would suggest he is not, yet this one is. He gives great speeches, his ideas are fantastic and everyone likes him. Republicans fear him and their ability to win against him. Trouble soon arrives, however, and these glasses are ripped from Meyers’ face, and he learns about betrayal, respect, blackmail, and the failures of blind idealism.
Gosling’s performance is the performance that carries the entire film and it is fantastic to see him getting more leading roles, particularly after his amazing turn in Blue Valentine. He is surrounded here by a fantastic cast of Academy Award winners and nominees such as Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Marisa Tomei, as well as Golden Globe winner Jeffrey Wright. Evan Rachel Wood also shines as Molly Stearns, an intern with the Morris ticket. The entire cast here is spectacular and fill their roles wonderfully. All are very ably led by Clooney in the director’s chair, so the film is definitely never dull, and the riveting performances help keep one in the film when their attention might otherwise stray.
Given the talent involved, then, one would hope for more from them. Sadly, the film moves along predictably- the young and eager campaign manager is twisted and betrayed by everyone and used to the advantage of everyone else around him, and as Gosling plays him, he seems somehow incredulous and baffled when all this happens to him- as if he is somehow above the murky waters of the political arena and that he can’t be touched by dirty politics. In theory this would work if Meyers was meant to be a plucky newcomer who was naive and didn’t know any better, but by his own admission in the film he has worked on numerous campaigns. The film presents the notion that, somehow, Meyers had his blinders on at all times and never took them off once, and when they are ripped away he is shocked. For the audience, however, this is business as usual in the world of politics. Had Meyers somehow managed to suffer the slings and arrows of the political landscape and avoid becoming a “jaded, cynical asshole” as Giamatti’s Tom Duffy describes himself, this might have meant something- yet in the end, he too becomes another political stereotype, and “politics as usual” just keeps on rolling.
The film was adapted from a play written by Beau Willimon, who has worked on many recent presidential campaigns (including the one on which the play is said to be loosely-based, that of Howard Dean in 2004). This gives the film a great authentic feel and Clooney has really captured it well. The film feels very fast-paced and is constantly on the go, meant to mirror the on-the-go nature of a political campaign. It gives those outside of the political arena a great look at the inside of the machine and a notion of what it might feel like to be part of the whirlwind and chaos of a political campaign. Everything has a sense of urgency, and this sense of urgency looms over the entire film like a storm front. This made for some wonderful tension and certainly helped to keep attention.
Sadly, when the film ends, it doesn’t leave one with anything. It is a film about “politics as usual” staying just the way it is, no matter who and what might try to interfere with it. And after it ends, the Blu Ray player turns off, the television flips back to the world of 24-hour cable news, and it’s exactly the same thing. In this, Ides definitely achieves a measure of realism, but this is a taste of realism that one tastes far too many times in the course of a normal day. It seems as if even the film has given up on the notion of anything but “politics as usual,” and even if it’s right… and well, that’s just the thing. It probably is right, and that just makes the reality of it that much more defeatist. Three and a half out of five stars.
By Nicholas Haskins
You can check out the trailer for the Ides of March, or check out this review and other reviews over at my examiner.com page. As always, you can follow me on Twitter or book my face. “The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.”