The Ides of March
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei
Directed by: George Clooney
One of the biggest pet peeves when it comes to politics is when some people get so latched onto a candidate or politician they see them as a completely infallible. Politics whether we like it or not have become less about the issues and more of a popularity contest with usually one wrong move or misstep could potentially be fatal and end careers. Unfortunately for us, it seems like politics focuses less on the issues plaguing the country and more about the image of the candidate. However this is fodder for a completely different discussion. My point for all this however is that politics are dirty, but then again water is wet. Everyone knows politics are dirty, and I knew that walking into The Ides of March, but hell if it wasn’t one of the best acted dramas of 2011.
Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), is a idealistic, hotshot, up and comer on the campaign trail of hopeful presidential candidate, Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). He’s being groomed by longtime, well-respected campaign manager, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and also eyed by rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti).
The Ides of March doesn’t bring anything new to the table for political dramas, but it a movie doesn’t always have been to be a game-changer as long as it plays the game well. Ides of March is based on a stage play called Farragut North and it certainly shows. The film uses minimal locations and takes place during a week of primaries in a small Ohio town where two Governors are competing for their party’s spot on the presidential ballot. The scenes are all dialogue-based, usually only contain two to three characters and yet the scenes are sometimes more intense than most action movies released nowadays. It also helps that your film is anchored by powerhouse performances across the board. Gosling is perfect as the wide-eyed idealist who legitimately believes that his candidate can make a difference. He’s charming, focused, has a moral compass, and is perfect to be molded. Clooney, fits the role of a charismatic presidential candidate like a glove. He’s a good speaker, straightforward, and of course, easy on the eyes. The strongest performances however are from veteran actors Hoffman and Giamatti. Both men play their roles with an equally brute honesty and are the complete opposites of the beautiful specimens of Clooney and Gosling. Their not afraid to get their hands dirty, their fat, stressed, and mostly willing to stab anyone in the back who gets in their way, and manipulate the people they work for and with. Only two pro campaign managers could be played with such skill by two pro actors. Both of these actors have two of the best acted scenes of the year when they have private conversations with Stephen. Although Gosling and Clooney would be considered the eye candy of the film, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen anytime Hoffman or Giamatti appeared.
Speaking of eye candy, two other smaller roles are filled by two great actresses. One is by Evan Rachel Wood as the intern Molly, who begins a relationship with Stephen that never once strikes an unrealistic chord. They have a cute, puppy-dog romance that effects both of their careers. Rachel Wood doesn’t have as much screen-time as the lead actors but leaves a lasting impression for the entire film. Marisa Tomei also has a small but significant role as Ida, the journalist. It’s nice to have a drama where the women are also dirty and manipulative as the men once in awhile. All the characters face ethical quandaries that may make or break their careers.
This is Clooney’s third directorial effort and probably his best so far. After the underrated but schizophrenic “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and the beautiful but slow-moving “Good Night & Good Luck” Clooney hit his stride in mixing politics with great acting without being overly flashy like Confessions or overly political like Good Night & Good Luck. Clooney is definitely an actor’s director and knows how to get the best performances of his cast and this film is no exception. Ides is also his most straightforward cinematic-wise. While Confessions has a relish of saturated colors and Good night had a gorgeous black & white, Ides probably has his most basic cinematography, which is not a bad thing at all. The scenes in Ohio look gorgeous in their dreariness and cold weather, which are a welcome change of pace to the usual New York and L.A. locations and reminded me alot of political thrillers from the 1970’s.
As straightforward as Ides of March is, it leaves many questions unanswered and is a great movie to discuss afterwards. I’m a sucker for movies based on stage plays that feature minimal great actors with great dialogue exchanges and I’m proud to add Ides of March to great stage plays adapted to the screen. The movie may not bring anything new or noteworthy to the list of political films, but like last year’s Social Network, anytime a movie can put me on the edge of my seat from two characters having a conversation, I cherish it.