DIR: George Clooney • WRI: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon • PRO: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver • DOP: Phedon Papamichael • ED: Stephen Mirrione • DES: Sharon Seymour • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, George Clooney
Idealism and politics are a sad mix – the latter dying by degrees as the former rises. Many lives have borne this out, and movie after movie engages with new ways to give the age-old warning that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Ides of March is, thus, not telling us anything that we didn’t already know – but that is not really the point. This is not strictly the story of a Democratic nominee’s fight for the White House, but more the tale of one man’s struggle to be either good at his job, or a decent person.
Ryan Gosling is, of course, this man – playing Steven Meyers, the junior campaign manager for Democratic candidate Mike Morris (George Clooney – also helming), under the tutelage of veteran trail-master, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Running against another Democratic party member, Pullman, for the presidential nomination, the team are pushing an ideal of perfection – Paul, as the old-hand, doing what needs to be done to win, and Steven wishing only to do what he believes in. Pullman’s character doesn’t get a look-in, as it is his campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who provides the real test of wills with Steven. This political melee is documented by Marisa Tomei’s hardnosed NY Times reporter, Ida, and forced to a head by Evan Rachel Wood’s beleaguered intern, and possible political Waterloo, Molly.
The Shakespearean title underscores the film’s commitment to using the panic of time, (the race for the Ohio nomination forms the backdrop), as a tool to emphasise the impression that tragedy is looming. Based on a stage production, Ides makes one crucial change to the play in having Senator Morris visible as an actual character, setting up the ideal with one clear goal – to tear it down. Clooney, of course, inspires confidence by just being Clooney, with Steven believing everything he says, and his toppling is equally convincing. Through a relationship with Molly, Steven begins to find his world unravelling, beginning with a disastrous meeting with the opposition. Giamatti’s Duffy is harsh and cynical, pointing out that the Democrats have played fair for too long – and it’s time they learned to roll in the mud with the elephants. And descend into mud they do. With much more in the unsaid than anything spoken, the film sweeps through its non-action with brooding camerawork, and a droopy-lidded Gosling intensifying every scene. Something is most certainly rotten in the state of Denmark, and Gosling plays the erring Hamlet to Clooney’s Claudius with perfection – the embodiment of foreboding, he gives what is essentially a hackneyed story some real power.
The Ides of March was slated for production in 2008, but Clooney has commented that he held production of the film after Obama’s election because, and I quote, ‘people were too optimistic for such a cynical film.’ Though there is nothing new in the story, considering the wealth of heavy-weights combining onscreen, not watching this movie would hurt far more than watching it. Steven and Morris’s denouement face-off is especially blistering, and Gosling’s mute horror, perfectly captured in extreme close-up, leaves a bitter aftertaste for political believers. Seductive ambition, indeed.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Ides of March is released on 28th October 2011