Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Ides of March (2011, George Clooney)

George Clooney is no stranger to politics; only recently being arrested in Washington for his protest over the humanitarian crisis of Sudan, he publicly backed Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, and his views on equal rights (particularly gay rights) have always been well known. His part in the recent play 8, focussing on the trial which overturned California's Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage, was another reminder of his passionate crusade for civil rights.

Clooney's life has been dedicated to Politics, actively serving to bring around change and to make awareness of injustices close to his heart. For a man who is such a part of politics, it's a shame then that The Ides of March (adapted from Beau Willimon's play Farragut North) lacks the depth and insight that we'd expect from a man so engulfed in the world he's portraying. It's an exceptional drama that doesn't necessarily lose any footing, however it feels all too safe, predictable, and in the end all rather inconsequential.

Ryan Gosling stars as our main man, Stephen Meyers; he is junior campaign manager for Mike Morris (Clooney), the Democrat Governor of Pennsylvania looking to run for presidency. Meyers is an idealistic young man who believes in what he does and believes honesty can belong in politics, only say you're going to do something if you know you can and will. Meyers' clean cut angelic outlook could have come across as unrealistic and rather corny, but is given enough rough edges and a mystique sheen that has him come off with some indication of depth.

The film revolves around Meyers completely and follows his decent into the murky goings on of the political machine.  It's a cliched story of youthful ideals being corrupted by the cynical grapplings of the world, but a story that's age old for a reason, as it makes for compelling viewing as we can't resist the slippery slope down. Meyers can't resist the slippery slope either, as one mistake (an honest mistake is debatable) unravels a complicated web of snowballing treachery that means he must play dirty (and abandon his ideals) to get back on top.

Out of the cast that features Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, and Geoffrey Wright, only Evan Rachel Wood really has enough to grapple with as the tragic soul of intern Molly. She acts as the catalyst for Meyer's decline. All involved have their moments to standout and deliver but this dream team of actors are too cramped to show off the talents we've come to know them for. The main reason for this being the running time; for a film that takes us on a journey of degeneracy through political campaigns, it would have benefitted from being longer to settle us into the world, to soak up the scenes behind the curtain, and to feel like we'd experienced a complete journey. What we get is closer to a skim through, a bullet point summary rather than the entire essay. While the film's ideology is clearly on it's sleeve and does indeed provide a satisfactory character arch for Meyers, it feels all rather basic in the end with no further commentary expressed. A missed opportunity to delve further into the hypocrisy and debilitating effects of politics, only telling us what we already know.

Ryan Gosling is as electric to watch as ever, his scenes with Evan Rachel Wood feel particularly alive while the two smoulder at full power. Hoffman and Tomei both nail their characters as people made jaded and desensitised through their line of work in politics and journalism respectfully. Clooney's candidate Morris whom all this revolves around is kept slightly muted and is only shown at length while rallying people behind his promises for equal rights, foreign policy, abortion, religion, and the death penalty. Perhaps only showing this side of him reveals the hollowness of his words as we never understand the man behind them. Clooney gives Morris a dark intimating edge when the pressure is applied to him later by Meyers' blackmailing, even though Gosling carries the film well, it would have been nice to seem more of this simmering nastiness beneath the surface from varying angles.

The Ides of March is a competent, slick, and interesting film that lacks memorability due to its refusal to dig further beneath the surface.

For fans of: Nashville (1975) The Insider (1999), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Michael Clayton (2007)