Friday, 4 November 2011

The Ides of March (2011)

What do you believe in?

Image: Entertainment One

Politics has always been a great playground for filmmakers. They get to confront their idealistic, good-looking heroes with high-stakes moral conundrums like: How do you know who to trust? How far are you willing to go? Who are you willing to hurt? So suffice it to say that The Ides of March doesn’t have a stunningly inventive premise. However, with a cast and crew this talented, it was always going to be worth a look. 

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is an incredibly talented media mind working on the presidential campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Stephen believes that Mike will be a great president, but when he takes a meeting with rival campaign head Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), events are set in motion that will make him question his loyalty and how far he’s willing to go for what he believes in.

For his fourth film as a director Clooney has assembled a mightily impressive supporting cast to surround, confuse, and manipulate the fresh-faced Gosling. There’s Philip Seymour Hoffman and Giamatti as rival foul-mouthed, conniving campaign managers (genius casting), Marisa Tomei as a savvy journo, Evan Rachel Wood as the too-good-to-be-true intern, and Jeffrey Wright as a Senator with an eye on a cabinet position. Then, of course, there’s Clooney as the charismatic governor and Gosling, in his third film of the autumn, as the likeable hero who’s suddenly faced with some tough choices. Clooney makes great use of the actor’s ability to turn charming warmth into sudden coldness.

As Stephen finds himself in murkier and murkier waters there’s all the whip-smart dialogue, barnstorming performances, and moral quandaries that you’d expect from a film in this genre. Where The Ides of March really impresses is in its willingness to follow those unpleasant problems through to their conclusions. It’s bleak, it’s cynical, and that’s what makes it stand out. We’ve all seen the film in which the young aide finds out that their idol isn’t as squeaky-clean as they thought. But in The Ides of March, no one is squeaky-clean. Everyone’s got a motive, everyone’s got an angle, and everyone wants to win. In a post-West Wing world of political drama in which we expect to find at least one wise, benevolent figure, if not a whole team of them, this film is surprisingly chilly and bleak.

It’s also clever enough to anticipate an audience that’s familiar with a film of this type. While some of the plot twists are a little predictable, there are a good number of small deviations on the formula that play on our knowledge of the genre, although that’s perhaps not too surprising as Clooney has starred in one or two himself. So while the story is familiar, it keeps you on your toes as it moves quickly towards Stephen’s moral crossroads.

Verdict: It’s not surprising that the cast and the direction are excellent. What impresses is how committed Clooney and co are to the dark tone and depicting the harsh reality of compromise.

4/5

JH

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