Monday, October 10, 2011

Man on Film: The Ides of March

George Clooney's fourth time out as a director sees him stepping back into a more serious realm after his middling football romp Leatherheads. While not reaching the heights that he soared to in Good Night and Good Luck--the best film of 2005--it is hard to fault him for not making a masterpiece this time around.

What The Ides of March is about at its core is Junior Campaign Manager Stephen Myers's loss of innocence. The brains behind the campaign, Stephen (played by the ever-impressive Ryan Gosling) embodies the idealistic crusader that so many wide-eyed and hopeful young people getting into politics are. In Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), Stephen believes that he has found his man, the one that can make a difference. Morris is the filmic equivalent of Jed Bartlett or Matt Santos, a paragon of liberal virtues and ideals in the form of an attractive and charismatic man. In other words, Morris is a dream candidate.

Unfortunately, Morris is a human being and is therefore imperfect. As Morris's imperfection becomes an issue, Myers begins to chip away at his own innocence. With both Senior Campaign Managers--of Morris's campaign, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and that of his Democratic Primary rival, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti)*--serving as cautionary examples of what cynicism-riddled existences a life on the campaign trail can produce, the future that awaits Stephen is prominently featured throughout the film. His path is sealed by the course of action he takes at each crossroads. As he gets deeper and deeper, he loses more and more of himself.

*The Ides of March is unique in that is likely the only movie that will ever be made requiring the acting talents of both Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It must have been odd for the two of them to not be competing for the same role, as there are actually two homely, unscrupulous, manipulative pricks who want to win at all costs in this film.  

Stephen's devolution is representative of the inevitable death of idealism in politics as winning takes precedence over maintaining the moral high ground. Governor Morris, too, is required to sacrifice his principles for the prospect of winning. To say that this film holds little hope for the ability of idealists to traverse the treacherous and rocky terrain without losing touch with what they believed in prior to entering into the fray is an understatement.

On these points, the film works. If you were looking for any sort of political intrigue or an unpredictable plot, this isn't your movie. While the central concern of the film is what happens to Stephen Myers, the course that the campaign takes through the Ohio Primary is obvious from the moment Evan Rachel Wood walks across the screen. The campaign is secondary to Stephen's descent, but it still fails to surprise from a narrative standpoint. While one could hardly qualify the campaign as dead screen time, it definitely seems to do little but serve a purpose to forward a single character's story arc.

The film does look great, set against the bleak landscape of the Rust Belt in March, and is carried by great performances from Gosling and Clooney with Hoffman, Giamatti, and Wood holding their own. Clooney, who also co-wrote the screenplay, clearly has an aptitude for crafting a film imbued with strong liberal ideals, as all of Morris's speeches on the campaign trail would have been right at home in the Sorkin-helmed seasons of The West Wing. For the most part, he's got another great film on his hands, although its not flawless like Good Night and Good Luck was.

1 comment:

dtmmr said...

This is entertaining even if suspense barely builds and pay-off revelations come with little surprise. Clooney, as a director, is also able to draw-out amazing performances from this whole ensemble cast. Great review. Check out mine when you get the chance.

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