Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Review: The Ides of March

Friends, Americans, Academy Voters: Lend George your Consideration

Director: George Clooney
Screenwriter: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, based on the play “Farragut North”, by Beau Willimon
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, George Clooney and Paul Giamatti
Plot: The Democratic Presidential Primary race is finely poised. Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) holds a delicate lead over his opponent, but it is fragile. Working on his campaign is the young media mind, Stephen Meyers (Gosling), who is idealistic and believes in this candidate. However, he is the focal point for a series of events which will change the shape of the campaign and expose him to dirty tricks, all of which start when he is approached by opposing campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Giamatti), who suggests he changes sides.
Running Time: 100m 46s

One thing you can be sure about with George Clooney is that he is almost certainly going to turn out interesting work. Whatever project he’s connected with, whether as a live actor, writer-director or even just a voice actor, will be worth talking about. Even his last directorial effort, the American-Football-based screwball comedy Leatherheads, had a charm about it and a rich visual feel which was diverting, despite it being a total flop critically and commercially.

Here, he returns to the sort of terrain he was on with his best film, Good Night, and Good Luck. The setting of The Ides of March is political, the atmosphere is serious and the style leans toward the film noir. However, whereas Good Night was about issues as much as it was about character, the story here is one of loyalty and betrayal which just happens to have a political backdrop.

However, it takes Clooney a fair amount of time to actually establish what sort of film this piece wants to be. The first hour is in part the first act of Macbeth, and also a densely written episode of The West Wing. It is always watchable despite this confusion, but when it kicks into gear as a straight thriller, it becomes very gripping.

Of course, with this cast, it would have been a superhuman effort for this to not be watchable. The most impressive members of it are not who you might expect, with Evan Rachel Wood being particularly striking as a spunky intern, and Paul Giamatti being positively fiery in a slightly underused part. Clooney is also very good as the politician who increasingly seems to be too good to be true.

The whole cast are good with Gosling and Hoffman (Governor Morris’ campaign manager) maintaining their high standard, but all of the actors, like the film at large, never really seem to hit top gear here. The combination makes for an entertaining 100 minutes, but for a film which is being put forward as a major awards contender, this is surprisingly under-powered fare.

The level of craftsmanship is excellent. In all of his films, it is apparent that Clooney knows how to frame and light a shot, and that is in evidence here. At points, the levels of dramatic lighting lean toward the farcical (there were audible giggles in my screening at some shots), but this is filmmaking of quite breathtaking competence.

Competence. That’s the word. This is a highly competent film, but it hasn’t sent me reaching for the superlatives one might expect from this esteemed company.  This would have been better suited to a March release, because it’s a very good watch, but in awards season, it, surprisingly, doesn’t have the firepower you’d expect. It is a dense but enjoyable thriller, but it may not live up to the expectations it’s built up for itself.

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