Monday, November 28, 2011
The Ides of March (George Clooney, 2011) **1/2
Dir. George Clooney
Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood
Given the current political climate, it is perhaps a perfect time for Hollywood to produce a solid, top notch political drama. And if there was anyone in Hollywood who would be perfect to pull that off, George Clooney would seem to be a good bet. His political activism combined with his consummate skill as a filmmaker (see: Good Night, Good Luck or Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) puts him in the perfect position to deliver the goods in this genre. Unfortunately, Clooney's film is adapted from a play and despite some admittedly powerful moments, the film never escapes the confining theatrical structure and melodrama of its source material.
Ides of March is based on a play by Beau Willimon about idealistic media consultant Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), who works for the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Morris in the midst of a tough battle in the pivotal Ohio Democratic primary and tensions are high on the campaign. He's trying to secure an important endorsement from a popular Senator that suddenly seems to be going for his opponent. A persistent reporter (Marisa Tomei) and rival campaign manager (Paul Giamatti) cause considerable problems for Meyers and his boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
A major problem with this film is that none of it feels very new. Meyers' journey from idealism to cynicism is awfully similar to that of Henry Burton in the superior political film Primary Colors, and at least that one had loads of humor to go along with the political insight, whereas Ides of March is deadly serious. While a serious political film about the realities of modern day politics would certainly be welcome, the plot here sadly forsakes realism for overwrought melodrama. The way the film handles the relationship between Meyers and a young intern (Evan Rachel Wood) is particularly bothersome.
Despite these problems, Clooney manages to coax outstanding performances from an amazing ensemble cast filled with the best performers in Hollywood. While the film doesn't come together as a whole, there are powerful moments where the cast shines. Several confrontation scenes really come to life, such as those between Gosling-Giamatti, Gosling-Hoffman, and Gosling-Clooney. But none of this flows together in a dramatically compelling way. It feels like a series of scenes strung together without any significant narrative rhythm, much like you would expect from a play that was not suitably adapted for the film medium.
While it is frustrating that this film did not come together as well as it should have given the people involved, I wouldn't want this to come off as an indictment against Clooney as a filmmaker. He still remains a rarity as an iconic star that chooses to do serious work that has important things to say. He may have failed here, but it is at least an effort worth appreciating from someone who could make much more money signing on to a brain dead big budget action film. And for those that want to see the fascinating political drama this film should've been, I recommend the documentary The War Room, which follows the behind the scenes drama of Clinton's 1992 campaign. There is a speech by James Carville near the end of that film that is more compelling than anything in The Ides of March.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 4:13 PM