The Ides Of March – Film Review

The Ides Of March (15)

Release date: Friday October 28

Cast: Ryan Gosling (Drive, Blue Valentine), George Clooney (Ocean’s Eleven, Syriana), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Magnolia), Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Win Win).

Director: George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind)

Screenwriter: George Clooney, Grant Heslov (Good Night, and Good Luck), Beau Willimon (Farragut North (play))

Running Time: 101 mins

For those looking for a short summation of the difference between the two main political parties in America – The Republicans and The Democrats – look no further than The Simpsons episode, ‘Bart Gets An Elephant’. As Stampy, the jaundiced family’s latest acquisition, runs amok through downtown Springfield, he barges into two conventions. In one hall Republicans hold signs aloft declaring, “We want what’s worst for everyone” and “We’re just plain evil”. In another, Democrats have scrawled placards stipulating “We hate life and ourselves” and “We can’t govern”.

Ides of March

Among the many maxims of The Ides of March – including power corrupts and revenge ain’t sweet – this repeated principle proves two things. Whoever holds court in the United States the people seem damned. And, what was true in 1994 holds sway today.

Hours before a presidential primary (think the first leg of a semi-final on the road to The White House, but versus your own team) political campaigner Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) takes to an empty stage and preps the speech he penned for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). It’s a speech fuelled with believability, frankness and more than a dash of hope. The man delivering these words has faith in them. More importantly he has faith in the man he’s giving them to. But his faith, and hope, is about to be tested.

More than any of the other bajillion films starring Ryan Gosling out this year, The Ides of March is the one that proves he’s made it. Drive was a new personal favourite for cineastes, but little more than a curiosity for those that have never heard of Little White Lies. Crazy Stupid Love wasn’t pitched far from those Notebook aficionados that have been praising Gosling’s beefcake status since 2004. But its during Ides, as he holds his own against Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman and a host of other Academy Award nominees littering the cast list, that Gosling cements his career for years to come. It may not be the best of his 2011 films or performances, but in context, however, it’s the most important.

Credit has to go to Clooney for keeping the camera on the young pretender even when his own visage is in frame. Similar to his onscreen/offscreen role in Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney’s presence is sidestage rather than front and centre and as both actor and director, Clooney gives Gosling what he needs to carry the film. In the few moments that the film strays its focus to the governor rather than the behind the scenes guy, things begin to get lost.

This loss of plot is felt most of all in the central reason for the idealist campaigners’ 180 degree turn from believing believer to cynical cynic. Inspired by a certain sax playing ex-President, the ‘crime’ Morris is responsible for doesn’t hold the weight needed for Meyers to react the way he does. Or maybe that’s just a British view where behind closed doors naughtiness isn’t quite so career defining.

Pitching at Shakespeare – not just in title but in grandiosity and back alley dealings – Clooney’s latest may be more memorable as a brutal attack on the Democratic party and their current ineptitude and unwillingness to, as Paul Giamatti’s rival manager states that all involved need to “Get down in the mud with the fucking elephants”. As a political thriller it holds its running time. As an important piece of social commentary, its relevance may not be witnessed until next November.

Before release, The Ides of March was the Oscar frontrunner. Upon inspection, it’s simply another solid effort from Clooney falling slightly short of his one masterpiece (thus far) Good Night, and Good Luck. While classic status is a ways off, as part of the curriculum for an ethics and morality Ides could have longevity. It’s Faust, it’s just not quite furious enough.