The Ides Of March (2011) Directed by George Clooney
I've been ill with some sort of flu now since September. I'm learning to get on with it, but it's hard. Apparently there is a virus upon virus upon virus that is untreatable by any medicine known to man. It's doomsday everybody! But really, it feels like I've got two ping-pong balls permanently stuck up my nose, a cough that resonates in my abdomen and a general cloud of dullness numbing my senses. It's very hard to enjoy anything, let alone dealing with a heavy workload: a small child, sociable business trips, impossible deadlines, recording, doing a radio show, having a (love) life and... watching movies. Watching movies is possible actually, in that half light before sleep where my cough is vibrating around the living room and everyone is trying to sleep...
Clooney is a political beast. He's got form. Behind the pearly white smile, the perfect tan and hairline, a rare intelligence surfaces. You get the sense that yes, he's smarmy and attractive but he's sharp too and he might even care. He's All The President's Men/The Candidate/Parallax View all rolled into one perfect package of HUNK. Conspiracy thriller? Look no further than George, because USA politics is rotten to the core. The Ides Of March delivers smart thrills over a clever script and different levels of exploitation. Double-cross and lies all form part of a web of paranoia that new whizz-kid-on-the-block- political-strategist Stephen (for a change a thoughtful Ryan Gosling) has to negotiate to keep believing in change via the ballot box. Will he succeed, or will he become the next Russell Brand? Is George Clooney actually the American Brand? He displays his disgust for conventional political conventions through various cinematic vehicles as director/writer/actor/producer: Goodnight, and Good Luck, The Ides Of March, Syriana, Argo, and The Men Who Stare at Goats.
The Ides Of March rattles at a pace, like a slightly more intense West Wing. It's brilliantly acted by Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman and a mysterious Clooney. And for the first hour you think this could be a classic. But then a slight plot twist leads to unlikely behavior from some characters and the illusion of greatness is lost. It doesn't mean that The Ides Of March is bad, it's mostly a very good film. It's just that this authentic look at the campaign trail is let down by some cheap melodrama. Gosling's wide eyed idealism is what's at stake. Maybe Clooney is showing us that learning the hard way through fair endeavor and being repaid with a loss of belief is something that should change.
It isn't the most original film, no. It's got obvious predecessors from the 1970s era of political films about running for various positions in politics. The Ides of March isn't even very clever. It falls for certain stereotypes about young women, when it suggests that a woman would commit suicide after being mistreated and left alone by a presidential candidate. Why? Wouldn't it be much more plausible that in this day and age, she would at least first get her payback by publicly humiliating the powerful deserter? Have the scriptwriters forgotten about Monika Lewinsky or the existence of Twitter?
But the film is not pretending to be anything huge and different. It is a dry-land vehicle for Clooney and Gosling to play the characters they do best. The movie offers a good ride and ends before it gets dull. It's well directed actually. And I agree with the director, we still need to be reminded about the nature of the game that is politics. We need to see it again and again to not forget that we are the pawns in a very corrupt gamble – and somebody always wins.
What's really interesting to me, is to talk about Clooney and Gosling, the actors. The big movie stars of our time. Their white faces and greyish eyes (although I guess Clooney's eyes are brown, but they might as well be grey). What is so innovative about Gosling? He's got the old Eastwood tensity without words and maybe a little of the rage of McQueen. But what is the deal really? Clooney has become a less of a Cary Grant (although he's still in the closet) and more of a quirky Clark Gable. He's got a little bit of the TV actor left in him though – too self-aware for his own good. Like maybe he's enjoying being Clooney a bit too much. My beef is that there is nothing queer, nothing radically left-field and new about these big Hollywood chaps. They are the bread and potatoes. Or the meat. But I'm a vegetarian. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Evan Rachel Wood get my money, ticket and love. That's just me.