Monday, 12 December 2011

Movie Review - 'The Ides of March'

Electioneering is a dirty business, we all know that. However, it's not all ballot-box-stuffing and voter-intimidation: some electioneering shenanigans operate on a different level all together, a level not always accessible to even the shrewdest hobnobbing journalist, let alone Joe Public. These are the games played by men (and women) of influence in every competitive, high stakes environment, and it is these games that take centre stage in The Ides of March, the new political drama directed by George Clooney and based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon. See the full review after the jump.

Front and centre in the Ides of March is Steven Myers (Ryan Gosling), an idealistic junior campaign manager for democratic presidential candidate Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). He reports to Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and is supported by interns Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) and Ben Harpen (Max Minghella). The story is set during the frantic last days before a heavily contested Ohio presidential primary, where the winner is almost certain to win the democratic nomination for the White House. Even in the absence of any scandal, the tension is palpable as Myers and Zara have to juggle anything from Governor Morris's strategy to meddling opposition campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) to the abovementioned hobnobbing journalist Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei). Add to the mix a fence sitting Senator (Jeffrey Wright) whose endorsement could be a determining factor in either campaign, and a little good old fashioned controversy, and you have yourself all the ingredients for compelling political drama. 

However, don't let the political subject matter dealt with in The Ides of March scare you away. It's not trying to make some profound political statement or expose a hitherto unknown truth, and what goes down between the players in this film is equally applicable to any competitive "big league" environment. This is borne out by the fact that it all takes place in the Democratic primaries - there are no Republicans in this film. On the one hand then, the film is what you would expect: a tension filled drama dealing with oft explored issues like idealism, loyalty, power, corruption and deceit. However, the heart of The Ides of March is the proverbial wheel. It keeps turning. It never stops. No matter who you are, or how important your role is, it keeps going, with you or without you. Whether you are an intern, the campaign manager or the Candidate himself, you are just a cog, nothing more. Whether by Paul Zara's 20 years as campaign manager, Governor Morris's discussion whether or not to undertake another election campaign, or the turnover at lower levels (cleverly illustrated in the opening and final scenes), it's all one big machine, greater than the sum of its components. The interesting question is what turns the wheel, what drives the machine? It can't be the individual, because every single person is expendable. There must be a collective power that makes the world what it is, whether in politics, in business or in war. Figure that one out, and the world is your oyster. It is this theme that differentiates The Ides of March from other political dramas.

The Ides of March, being based on a play and directed by an actor, places all its weight squarely on the shoulders of the cast and their performances. There really is little else to distract the viewer. That being said, the hugely talented cast delivers strong performances all round, the standout being Ryan Gosling once again. He displays a far greater range of emotion than he is required to in Drive, and even though I have nothing but praise for that performance, I think that if any of his roles are going to attract Academy attention, this is the one. Special mention should also go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is (as always) frighteningly comfortable in his role; and Evan Rachel Wood, with her seamless transitions between flirtatiousness and vulnerability.

With it's relatively short 101 minute running time, The Ides of March moves at a brisk pace. Add to that its commanding performances and engaging dialogue, and you will never be bored. Unless your cinematic appetite is restricted to guns, cars, sparkly vampires and/or soppy romances, The Ides of March is definitely worth your precious time this festive season.

The Ides of March opens in South Africa on Friday 23 December.

8 out of 10

Useless Trivia:

You may have noticed that some of Governor Mike Morris's campaign posters are inspired by Shepard Fairey's iconic "Hope" poster, used during Barack Obama's campaign in 2008 (pictured below). The photograph that Fairey used for that "Hope" poster was taken at a 2006 press conference in which then Senator Obama shared a stage with fellow Senator Sam Brownback and George Clooney, who had just returned from Sudan. Well, the image in the "Hope" poster is of Obama listening to Clooney speak.


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