Wednesday, 26 October 2011
The Ides of March
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Evan Rachel Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright
By Alan Bacchus
George Clooney’s The Ides of March can be summed up by quoting the oddly simplistic yet precise description of Citizen Kane on its poster, ‘It’s Terrific!’ Has this film fallen off everyone’s radar already? If so, what a shame. Don’t let this fascinating, thrilling and wholly thought-provoking and cynical new millennium political thriller fall through the cracks. It’s one of the best films of the year.
Stephen Myers (Gosling) is a hot-shot assistant campaign manager for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), who is running for the Democratic nomination in the lead-up to a Presidential election. Although he is no less influential in the race, Myers is the number 2 guy behind Paul Morris (Hoffman). Like most young political whips, Myers’ idealism about his place in the political system and his faith in Morris, the DNC and U.S. politics in general is a rarity. Paul has his own equally high moral standard, yet, by experience, has a strong armour of pragmatism.
Morris has the lead in the race, and with the delegate support of Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), he could seal the nomination. The wrench in the machine comes in the form of Myers’ competitor, Tom Duffy (Giamatti), campaign manager for the other side, who makes a play to bring Myers over to his candidate. This represents the beginning of a series of psychologically and morally complex issues for Myers as he attempts to spin-control the fallout of his decision. Clooney and his writers deftly play out three separate political subplots, and in the third act they snake them around each other in perfect structural screenplay form. To provide additional details about the thought-provoking plot twists would be criminal.
But by the end, Myers’ character arc – that is, where he begins the film vs. where he ends up – is so deep and profound we can’t help but think of Michael Corleone’s gradual descent into moral corruption. Yes, the same Michael Corleone from The Godfather. In almost half the running time (a refreshingly slim 101 minutes), Clooney crafts a similar tale of corruption and the effect of career ambition, jealousy and revenge on one’s moral conscience.
Aiding Clooney are the two best character actors on the planet as his trench-war fighting rivals. Hoffman and Giamatti sharing the same space is akin to the monumental occasion when Robert De Niro faced off against Al Pacino in Heat, or when Christopher Walken tortured Dennis Hopper in True Romance. Both actors match each other in dramatic weight, bringing working class grit to their roles in equal measure.
The ability of Ryan Gosling to fit himself into these two powerhouses and emerge with his head above water is testament to his abilities as well. He embodies both the optimism and cynicism of American politics.
George Clooney has successfully dipped this fine picture into the hardline, pessimistic and distrustful era of ‘70s filmmaking, matching the stone cold integrity of films like All the President’s Men. Clooney refuses to give us the Capra ending. Instead, he force-feeds the American people (not me, I’m Canadian) a healthy dose of political reality, however conniving and malicious it may be.