4 / 5 stars
After the considerable hype surrounding Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy earlier this year (earning $22M in the UK as of this writing), most other 2011 films of a political nature are faced with the very real possibility of going unnoticed. The Ides of March has in its favor some serious star power to lift it above the mire and into public attention. Man of the moment Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Meyers, a staffer for Democratic nominee hopeful Mike Morris, played by George Clooney, who also directs. Gosling and Clooney are ably supported by an excellent cast, including Philip Seymour Hoffman (as Meyer’s boss), Paul Giamatti (the rival candidate’s campaign manager), Marisa Tomei (a passive-aggressive journalist), and Evan Rachel Wood (an aspiring young intern). However, following the universal acclaim given to Tinker, Tailor’s ensemble, Ides has very large shoes to fill.
Whilst it is perhaps unfair to judge The Ides of March against Tinker, Tailor, especially as they were both based on source material, there’s nothing like the multi-layered characters found in Clooney’s effort. There’s very little in terms of unexpected role development, and Gosling’s character’s descent from naive idealism to ruthless revenge seems accelerated, to say the least.
Clooney’s direction, considering he’s longer in his honeymoon directing period with his fourth feature, is decidedly middling. Whilst the pace throughout is kept brisk (a refreshing advantage over Tinker, Tailor‘s glacial speed), many flourishes from behind the camera are unnecessary and heavy handed. Several sequences of muted film with music played over the top are apparently purposeless, and repeated close-ups of character’s faces whilst they brood or look pensive look nice rather than bring anything to the plot.
However, Clooney the actor is always guaranteed to have an audience eating out of the palm of his hand, thanks to his abundant charisma, and it’s this mixture of natural charm and his character’s more risible features that give the audience a superb picture of the man’s public and private personas. Gosling perhaps lack the emotive range to truly convey his fall from idealist to revenge seeker, but he, like Clooney, exudes appeal that is impossible to ignore, making up for any deficiencies in the acting department.
The plot is predictable yet engaging, with the audience never quite sure who will come out on top as the film’s web of deceit becomes clearer and clearer. One moment in particular requires a large suspension of disbelief, but this is excusable, as the rest of the film manages to stays grounded and realistic. The negativity and cynicism the film expresses towards politicians, and American politics in general, may be in keeping with the current climate, but it is surprisingly dark and hard-hitting. After all, presenting Clooney as anything less than a charming, suave, God among men will undoubtedly cause many who see The Ides of March to reevaluate their view of the perfect politicians they see paraded on television everyday (and probably their lives as a whole, but that’s George). For that, The Ides of March should be commended.
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