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George Clooney Wants Your Vote for “The Ides of March”

October 10, 2011

By John C.

Serving as the director, producer, co-writer and supporting actor, George Clooney does quadruple duty on The Ides of March.  Based on the stage play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, the highly political film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last month and opened in theatres this past Friday.

Taking place over the final week leading up to a primary election in Ohio, The Ides of March is a tightly written political drama with overtones of a thriller.  The press secretary for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) will do or say anything so long as he believes in the cause.  But the young idealist finds himself falling headfirst into an intriguing political scandal that starts when he has an affair with a seductive intern, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood).

When Stephen meets with a rival manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), things really start heating up in the campaign office as the election becomes a competition.  With a pushy reporter (Marisa Tomei) pressing to expose the dark secrets of the presidential hopefuls, the loyalty of everyone including Morris’s campaign manager Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is ultimately pushed to the breaking point.  But Stephen is the one who has to make the biggest moral decisions, choosing whether he wants to do the right thing or potentially lose his job.

Although I won’t reveal it here, the entire film hinges on a big twist that comes partway through the second act.  Some have been critical of this unseen plot point, but it provides the moment in the story when the stakes rise and more tension starts to build.  I personally found it believable, working because it adds deeper and more physical complications to an otherwise straight forward political story.  We know that things are never quite as they seem in the world of politics, but The Ides of March strives to show us how far things could go during a campaign and the way that these actions are manipulated before they make their way into the public spotlight.

But the film succeeds because it features a great cast all at the top of their game.  As a director, George Clooney brings out the best in each actor.  With everyone getting at least one moment to shine, there isn’t a weak link in terms of the performances.  The only surprising thing is that Clooney gets a relatively small role in his own movie.  It is Ryan Gosling who carries the film.  Like with his equally strong work in Drive, we only get vague details of his characters’ back story and don’t see what happens before the events of the film.  It cuts to black at a pivotal point.  But because we have no preconceptions of who his character should be, in many ways this makes us more accepting of how far he will be pushed.

Showing how personal beliefs are presented in a way that betters the political campaign, The Ides of March questions the fine line between the politics of society and the morals of an individual.  In one memorable scene, Mike Morris openly opposes the death penalty on public TV, only to be hypothetically questioned if he would kill someone who harmed his wife or family.  His answer is that he would do it in a heartbeat, but take full responsibility for his actions and spend time in jail.  Both in their personal lives and in the dirty world of politics, the audience senses the struggle of the characters as they strive to push themselves forward.  So long as they believe in the cause, even morals can’t stand in their way.

Since this is a big fall release, talk of Oscar nominations is inevitable.  Despite being a good movie with a great cast, I’m not sure at the moment if this will be a serious contender for Best Picture.  Especially not with George Clooney’s The Descendants the probable frontrunner.  Some critics were underwhelmed by The Ides of March, feeling it didn’t offer anything that we haven’t seen from other political films.  But the film works because it underplays each scene and keeps everything at a calculated pace.  This is only his fourth feature, but George Clooney already has a distinct style as a director.

Intriguing moral and political questions are posed as every plot point that is slowly revealed leads to the outcome of the tightly wound story.  Even though voices are rarely ever raised above normal volume, an admirable amount of tension builds throughout the sharply written exchanges between characters.  The film ends with a final close-up that is destined to either leave you questioning what happens next or applauding the artistic choice to end it on a realistically anti-climactic note.  But The Ides of March is worth seeing for the excellent cast of great actors all turning in uniformly strong performances.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2011 7:17 pm

    I agree that the film was mostly able to overcome its lack of novelty through its excellent cast and the good pacing of Clooney’s direction.

    I don’t think it will really contend for Best Picture (although with 10 nominations — which I think is asinine — it might at least garner that), but Best Adapted Screenplay is possible. It is certainly very intelligent and well-scripted.

    I also wrote a review on my blog. Here’s a link:

    http://tommydtalksmovies.com/2011/10/10/the-ides-of-march-review/

    Like

    • October 10, 2011 8:18 pm

      I agree that a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination might be in the mix for The Ides of March. Maybe an acting nomination or two as well. But this year for the Oscars there can be a minimum of five and a maximum of ten nominees for Best Picture, which means that the race will be even tighter.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts on the film!

      -John C.

      Like

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