The Ides of March (2011) / Drama
MPAA rated R for strong language and sexual content
Running time: 101 min.
Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle
Small role: Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Charlie Rose
Director: George Clooney
Screenplay: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon (based on WIllimon's play, "Farragut North")
Review published April 1, 2012
Ryan Gosling (Fracture, Half Nelson) stars as up-and-coming hotshot Stephen Meyers, an idealistic, ambitious, but very effective assistant campaign manager for charismatic Governor Mike Morris (Clooney, The Men Who Stare at Goats), who happens to be narrow frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. However, the nomination isn't locked up, as Morris and his opponent are locked in a battle for the Ohio primary, with all of its delegates, and lots of dirty politics coming into play that gives his opponent the upper hand.
Meyers gets a call from their opponent's campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Giamatti, Win Win), who tells him he needs to join their team before their side gets crushed by moves to come into play due to the wheeling and dealing behind the scenes, and though Stephen, who firmly believes in his candidates values and his ability to be a great president, refuses, the doubts soon begin to creep in, especially when he discovers what might be a powder keg controversy in Morris's life that would undo everything they've worked so hard to accomplish. Meyers tries to keep a lid on everything, but his loyalty comes under question, which is the only commodity worth anything in politics -- a lesson he soon comes to learn the hard way.
George Clooney directs (his fourth), co-writes, produces, and stars in this thoughtful political drama that adapts co-screenwriter Beau Willimon's play, "Farragut North" (which had been largely based on the presidential run of Howard Dean), and tosses in bits of the runs of Clinton and Obama. As with his prior efforts, Clooney definitely impresses, both in front of and behind the camera, concentrating on the things that fascinate him the most: politics and its use of the media.
Bolstered by a fine fast, Clooney benefits from a degree of credibility the story needs to succeed, especially when the film seems to become quite salacious in its details. Gosling is the main star and carries the movie well, matching his supporting cast of Oscar-caliber actors, and does so through his perpetually darkly stoic demeanor even through the most trying of ordeals. Giamatti and Hoffman (The Invention of Lying, Pirate Radio) , who plays the Morris's jaded senior campaign manager, stand out very well in small-ish supporting roles. Evan Rachel Wood (Whatever Works, The Life Before Her Eyes) also performs well as the seductive intern involved with Stephen, who reveals the tragic vulnerability of a young woman caught up in a world where there are unforeseen major consequences to her dalliances.
Curiously, Clooney's somewhat somber film is thoughtful but ultimately lacks, despite the title's allusion, the Shakespearian gravitas to truly hit home the themes indicting the political process as one that can only corrupt. The Ides of March plays like a good movie, not a great one, but one that is meant to stimulate a deeper look at the internal struggle that goes on in the campaigns of top shelf candidates, where molding the public image can make or break careers.
It is tense, thought-provoking, and definitely should interest political junkies interested in the eternal struggle between the message and the messenger when it comes to the person we elect to public office. It's about power, corruption, backstabbing, and wrestling with one's character, but the real tragedy comes when ideals are shoved to the side when that idealism gets in the way of winning the game. It's a cynical piece about the loss of wide-eyed, aspirational innocence, but probably closer to the truth of the stomach-turning sausage-making process that goes on behind closed doors in the political arena.
©2012 Vince Leo