Loading...

The Ides of March Review 

George Clooney's fourth feature as director attempts to capitalize on the fall of Obamamania

Thursday, Oct 6 2011
Comments

A procedural on the political manipulation of medium and message, George Clooney's fourth directorial effort is bookended with scenes of media-op prepping. In the first, Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), a 30-year-old campaign adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Mike Morris (Clooney), fills in for his boss at the sound check for a televised debate leading up to a queasily close Ohio primary. Stephen runs through lines from the candidate's bluff-heavy speech, suggesting that anyone who doesn't buy Morris' political and religious credentials shouldn't vote for him, and concludes with his own glib ad lib: "Whatever you do, don't vote for me."

As Stephen is transformed from naive believer to cynic with all-too-intimate sausage-factory experience, the film's ironic tone moves from relatively harmless spoken joke to insidious unspoken subtext, so that, as Stephen mics up to comment on another speech in the film's final moments, in which the candidate drops words like "dignity" and "integrity," we're meant to read painful moral conflict and compromise onto Gosling's expressionless face.

Scripted by Clooney, his longtime partner Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, Ides of March is a loose adaptation of Farragut North, a 2008 play by Willimon, who spent his 20s working on campaigns for Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean. In the play, the candidate played by Clooney was spoken of but never appeared onstage. In the film, he's an active, necessary player in behind-the-campaign intrigue involving Stephen, his mentor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a competing candidate's top aide (Paul Giamatti) and a tempestuous, barely legal sexpot intern (Evan Rachel Wood).

click to enlarge The education of Ryan Gosling: The Ides of March
  • The education of Ryan Gosling: The Ides of March

Related Stories

But Clooney's movie star bona fides also provide a crucial face for Ides' investigation of idolatry, of Morris as the charismatic politician who woos like a heartthrob, both literally and figuratively. Marisa Tomei, as a flirty, vicious political reporter, warns Stephen to be wary of his boss in the language and cadence of an embittered older sister talking to a schoolgirl about her first boyfriend: "He's a nice guy. They're all nice guys. He'll let you down sooner or later."

Meanwhile, Giamatti's character couches Stephen's talent for spin (and, as it will later be revealed, his own) as a kind of devious seduction, praising "the ability to earn people's respect by making them mistake their fear for love."

In this toxic cauldron of cross motives, actual love can't exist, a fact of life that not even Wood's immature intern, whose cheerful fuckability ignites disaster, can deny. But Ides is unmistakably a tale of romantic coming-of-age. A genuine idealist when we meet him, happily, guilelessly evangelizing Morris' "Kool-Aid," Stephen's arc is over when his heart has fully hardened. Here, as in last month's Drive, Gosling's blankness contains multitudes. As a main character dies, heroes are cut down to size and a bittersweet face-saving revenge gambit is put into motion, the actor's gorgeous mug becomes increasingly poker-ready, eventually locked in a deceptively placid, dangerously unreadable, quarter-smile come-on. No wonder he is made the "face of the campaign."

Compelling enough as a methodic moral inquiry, a step-by-step accounting of how lines in the sand move, the film is less successful when attempting to capture the feeling of the times. Ides is transparently haunted by the crash of Obamamania — for better or for worse, the takeaway image of this rarely visually interesting film is of a dead-eyed Gosling surrounded by Clooney's face on Fairey-esque screen prints selling the slogan "Believe." But the film is too melancholic to mount an actual political argument — it's more like public wound licking. Any nod to our real of-the-moment disillusionment dissolves into soapy plot contortions, with a sex scandal begetting backstabbing and blackmail, necessitating secret rendezvous in darkened stairwells and the kitchens of closed restaurants.

For all of the timely questions rumbling through Clooney's film — Is change even possible? Does a "good" man stand a chance once incorporated into a hopelessly "bad" system? — the movie cushions the end of idealism within noir fantasy. A truly devastating indictment of contemporary politics would simply show what happens when the "Believe" candidate gets elected and then actually tries to do the job.

THE IDES OF MARCH | Directed by GEORGE CLOONEY | Written by CLOONEY, GRANT HESLOV and BEAU WILLIMON, based on Willimon's play Farragut North | Columbia Pictures | Citywide

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Sat 2
  2. Sun 3
  3. Mon 4
  4. Tue 5
  5. Wed 6
  6. Thu 7
  7. Fri 8

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!

Slideshows

  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.
  • Are Westerns For The Weak? Not According to "Sensei" Martin Kove
    Decades ago, the western film was king, with nearly 100 produced every year at their peak in the 1940s, and their popularity extending years beyond. But today, other than rare successes like Django Unchained or True Grit, the genre is not in great shape. Films such as Cowboys and Aliens and The Lone Ranger failed to spark new interests in the western. It's a tough nut to crack, but veteran movie bad guy Martin Kove -- most well known for his role as Sensei John Kreese in The Karate Kid -- is passionate about the classic American film genre and is trying to revive it. We spent an afternoon at his home talking about westerns and how to make the genre interesting again. All photos by Jared Cowan.

Now Trending