Ides Of March, The (2011)

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

     

Starring:  Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell.
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Director: George Clooney
Rating: R
Running Time: 101 Minutes

Release Date: October 7, 2011
Home Video Release Date: TBD
Box Office: $TBD
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Cross Creek Pictures, Exclusive Media Group, Smoke House, and Columbia Pictures.

Written by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon, adapted from the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon.

 

“Your guy wins…you get a seat at the White House…” – Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei)

There’s an indelible moment about an hour or so in to “The Ides Of March” where Ryan Gosling’s Stephen Myers realizes, for the first time, the heaviness which comes with carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.  Everything the young politico thinks he understands about political campaigning – the savvy, unflappably calm and cool persona he is forced to project with ease has started to unravel, the gamesmanship he covets and prospers may be working against him – essentially, everything has come full circle.  With a wincing, yet steel-eyed glare, Myers has to make a decision which calls into question his morality, his ideologies, and ultimately his career path.  And even if you can pretty easily figure out what is going to occur, Gosling keeps you rapt with attention and hanging on each and every word, flinch, and mannerism.

Gosling’s Myers is a young and confident, barely 30-year-old press secretary for Senator Mike Morris (George Clooney) and despite his youth, Myers is a veteran of the political game.  Inside the beltway, Myers is highly respected and viewed as an up-and-coming figure within the Democratic party.  He is the right-hand man to Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the man in charge of running the Mike Morris presidential campaign.  Morris is a candidate in the mold of Barack Obama, with a call for change and progressive ideals resonating with voters and helping me widen his lead in the polls heading into the pivotal Ohio primary.  We learn that in a field of candidates, only Morris and Senator Pullman of Arkansas (Michael Mantell)are all that remain with any chance of securing the delegates needed to win the party’s nomination.

Anchoring the Pullman campaign and desperately trying to stop the bleeding is Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), a weather-beaten but storied veteran of political warfare who is left to watch his candidate’s prospects weaken with each passing day.  Duffy sees his more traditional candidate failing to measure up to the galvanizing message of the hipper, younger, and more dynamic Morris.

As a result, Zara and Myers are firmly in the driver’s seat, they can play around with NY Times political beat writer Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei), dropping scoops and bombshells to keep her satisfied, while Zara takes meetings with influential party members hoping to lock up the final delegates needed win the party’s nomination.With so much going right for the Morris campaign, trouble inevitably starts to creep into the frame and the slope becomes quite slippery.  Myers agrees to take a private 5-minute meeting with Duffy, possibly breaking an unwritten ethical code, while Zara makes promises he is anticipating instead of legitimizing.  And when a street smart, but socially naive 20-year old intern, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), becomes an integral part of the campaign and shares a mutual interest in Myers, the twists and turns that follow catch everyone off guard – Zara, Morris, Duffy, other staffers, Ida Horowicz, and naturally, Stephen Myers – who finds himself smack dab in the middle of controversies and confusion spiraling dangerously out of control.

“The Ides Of March” does a lot of things extremely well.  George Clooney continues to show his considerable talents on both sides of the camera and Clooney effectively pulls himself back a bit in the role of Morris, letting the film play in and around Ryan Gosling’s intriguing character.  As fine an actor as he is, Clooney is equally adept at managing this ensemble and although Marisa Tomei’s reporter gets lost in the shuffle, the rest of the cast flourishes under Clooney’s guidance.

Ryan Gosling is again terrific in this parable about the American political process that is both compelling and at times quite chilling.  Gosling again cements his status as a top shelf talent and goes line for line and scene for scene with Oscar-winners Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti.  Hoffman is appropriately weathered, stained in cigarette smoke, and forever uncompromising as Paul Zara, and Giamatti’s turn as Duffy balances desperation, intelligence, and stress equally as well.  The surprise for me comes with Evan Rachel Wood’s performance as Molly, a turn which did not resonate with me initially, but returned to my mind again and again in the days after I saw the film.  Wood, who is very quietly building a nice resume of work, really strikes a chord as her lack of foresight and naivete help bring a maelstrom at the feet of Myers and the Morris Campaign.

But here’s the thing.  Technically sound, expertly crafted, and brilliantly performed, there is still something missing here and the film never truly struck an emotional beat with me.  I admire “The Ides Of March” on many levels and have no qualms about recommending it, but what truly holds this back from being one of the finest films of the year is a disappointing bend and turn employed by Clooney and his screenwriting team.

“The Ides Of March” is not an action-oriented political thriller, but it is a suspenseful drama about the corruption which poisons our political system.  Democrats or Republicans, it matters none because what Clooney and his co-screenwriters Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon rightfully inform us is that essentially, absolute power, and/or the thrill of acquiring it, corrupts absolutely.  While it is always a bitter pill to swallow when we realize this in reality, on screen we have been told this so many times that when “Ides of March” gets to its big moment, the emotional gutpunch is nothing more than a glancing blow.

So what do we do with “The Ides Of March”? I struggle with accepting the final third of the film, which dovetails into melodrama and soapy predictability, only to try and reclaim a profound voice in its final moments. For “The Ides Of March” not to deliver all the way through to the end almost seems a contradiction. And what a shame that is, because the film looks fantastic, is exquisitely paced and directed, and has tremendous acting throughout.  Unfairly perhaps, the biggest flaw with “The Ides Of March” is that it fails to deliver in one key moment, muting its message and keeping it from becoming not one of the best films of the year…just merely a good one.

Should I See It?

YES

The film, as expected, has tremendous performances from Gosling, Giamatti, Hoffman, Clooney, and Evan Rachel Wood.  Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright aren’t given much to do, but there really is not a bad performance to be found and Gosling again is fantastic.

The film does make some profound statements on arrogance, the corruption running rampant through our political system – an always sobering thought to consider.

George Clooney is a fantastic director and “Ides Of March” doesn’t waste time or energies.  The film is sleek, riveting (for most of the time), and extremely accomplished from a technical standpoint.

NO

Ideally, this would appeal to the folks who love political thrillers and suspenseful dramas, but when elements more commonly found on television creep into a smarter and more engaging story, people may feel their time was wasted.

The film is not partisan in any way, but by focusing strictly on Democratic candidates and scenes involving Clooney’s Morris giving speeches about his party’s platform, some who don’t subscribe to the political ideology of Morris may feel that Hollywood is again trying to ram a particular message down their throats.

I’m not all that sure that a film about political corruption and arrogance is a film that a lot of people in today’s world are going to be excited to see.  And with a presidential campaign season already wearing out its welcome before the first caucuses of 2012, this may be the wrong time to consider watching a film of this magnitude.

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