REVIEW: The Ides of March

The Ides of March
Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti

The fourth film by George Clooney (following Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night, and Good Luck and Leatherheads) really begins to define George Clooney as a director, which is starkly similar to his reputation as an actor. Neither does Clooney the director or Clooney actor ever take brash or bold artistic risks, but instead they both seem to keep their class by maximizing their modest range.

Put more simply, he knows what he’s good at and he avoids the rest at all costs.

Naturally, when Clooney must outsource the role of his lead, he turns to Gosling, his less talented and forced prodigy-in-the-making. If only Gosling followed the same mantra as Clooney, he might find himself becoming an actor before a movie star. Gosling doesn’t know his talents and talent limits, but picks the right movies anyway, living up the fame and Esquire covers while he can.

That’s not to say Ryan Gosling isn’t good in Ides of March, because its actually one of the first few movies that he doesn’t chum himself out. Most of the chumming is actually done by Clooney, who takes the time in the film that he wrote, directed and produced to political grandstand for a moment as Mike Morris, governor of Pennsylvania and a true liberal’s dream. Clooney’s Morris is hot on the tongue and ready to eloquently defend women’s rights, the environment, religious and secular rights given by the constitution or renewable energy jobs and the absurdness of the wars. His words are careful, and they are delivered with passion. It’s not ridiculous to close your eyes and imagine if the words were written for Senator Barack Obama running for his first time in 2012.

His battle in the DNC primary for the nomination places him with a small lead and an expected win in Ohio, which would probably make him the candidate over Pullman. However, his opponent is favored by right-winged Republicans who fear him in the general election and are willing to follow the media storm set out by Rush and Hannity. Things worsen when a vetting battle for a fellow candidate’s delegates begins.

The story isn’t about Morris though; it’s really about his number two campaign advisor, Stephen Meyers, who is even sharper, smarter and niftier than him, so much so that the opponent takes an opportunity to snatch him away. As things take a turn for the worse and a series of blackmailing and press leaks intertwine, Morris and Stephen square off in ideological warfare that blends their beliefs and jobs into a muddy, back alley political meltdown.

The process of the story unfolding is really quite entertaining, making it easy to understand why it experienced success as a play. Clooney’s knack for such genre (Michael Clayton, Syrianna) usually gives him lush acting opportunities. Although he plays the role well, the rest of his star-studded cast gives expert performances. Marisa Tomei, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood and Paul Giamatti all will wrongly be overshadowed by Ryan “the Goz” Gosling and would have certainly been welcomed more screen time had the story permitted it. 

Ides of March, despite its pulse-binding narrative, never really impresses much cinematically. The film itself is put together quite well, but filmmaking techniques like lighting and cinematography are vastly underutilized. Instead, characterization falls on the acting and story.

Nonetheless, the film entertains and keeps the focus on the subject at hand, which is obviously the intricacy of the political backroom. In the end, you’ll realize there was no grandstanding actually, but there are lessons to be taken away from it, even if they are subpar. The Ides of March in this sense becomes less of an ideal allegory to the political system, and instead a better one for Clooney’s capabilities.

Grade: B-

Read our George Clooney Spotlight here.

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