Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Film Review: The Ides of March

As the real life death match day dawns in America (imagine the turnout for that kind of election), it seemed like an appropriate time to watch "The Ides of March". George Clooney directs and stars in this political melodrama, which deals with the price, and loss, of idealism. It's a solid film, with snappy performances from the leads, but sticks to a muted tone, rather than all out excitement or scandal. Like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy did for espionage, The Ides of March shows political machinations in a realistic light, where it's not so much top-down, thought out conspiracies afoot, but instead the desperate actions of individuals out to save their own skins.

Though the film is charting the presidential nomination of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), it focuses the experience through the eyes of his young press officer, Stephen Meyers, expertly played by Ryan Gosling. We see his eyes light up at the sight of his admired politician, his passion to do well by him. Despite being yet another cynical spin doctor, Meyers actually believes in Morris, and that this is the man meant for the White House. But before long it becomes clear that Morris is not as squeaky clean as he appears and Meyers has to make some hard choices.

Never ramping up into proper political thriller territory, the destruction of Meyer's idealism and beliefs is a slow one. Where other films would struggle to maintain any kind of interest with such a slow pace, George Clooney manages it (mostly) due to the casting; Gosling is in fine form, as ever, and plays very well against Even Rachel Wood as the young beautiful intern. But it's actually the supporting cast that make this movie, namely Philip Seymour Hoffman as the campaign manager Paul Zara and Paul Giamatti as the competing campaign manager for the other democrat candidate. Both are playing hard, experienced political players, and their interactions with Meyer are some of the best moments. The script also has a lot to do with this, and the witty, at times acerbic rhetoric, is a reason all by itself to watch this film.

If you're shallow, Ryan Gosling, being his usual attractive self, is a reason
to see this film. I am shallow, so it was a good reason for me.

Despite the strong performances and smart script, The Ides of March is a strangely unsatisfying film, though this likely has more to do with personal preference than anything else. It drips with cynicism and offers no redeeming or hopeful conclusion once the political nooses have been tied for their respective sacrifices. It's certainly realistic, and deserved the amount of praise it received. But it just isn't very much fun. It shows American politics for the hateful and sneaky business it no doubt turns into behind the scenes, and shows that even within one political party there can be as many dirty tricks as between genuine political adversaries. If you like your political dramas to be realistic, and without any possible hopeful conclusion, then this is a good fit. Others may find it's bleakness wearying, though it's impossible not to admire it for the effort to show the dark underbelly of modern day politics.

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