Film review: The Ides of March
It's difficult not to be impressed with George Clooney. He may well be sickeningly attractive to all sexes, but he isn't one to jump on the rom-com conveyor belt, churning out the same lightweight performance, film after film. In fact it could be said that no other leading man in Hollywood today takes the same kind of risks as Clooney.
Looking through his body of work, you can tell that he not only challenges himself as an actor, but more often than not, his core audience. His latest film The Ides of March, is yet another example of Clooney proving that he only cares about material that attracts him, as opposed to films that make him attractive for the sake of it. As it happens, that usually ends up happening too, making it a win win for the fifty year old actor.
This political drama is also only the second film to feature Clooney as actor, writer and director, since 2005's Good Night, and Good Luck.
It's Primary election time in the US, and it's a two horse race between Senator Mike Morris (Clooney) and Governor Pullman (Michael Mantell). Although it looks like Pullman has a slight edge, Morris has a formidable campaign team behind him, including seasoned pro campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his bright protégé Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling).
Stephen may well be young, but his political savvy and acute handling of spin is more than evident for all parties concerned to see. So much so that he finds himself contacted by rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who is so impressed with his talents, he offers him a job.
Although somewhat flattered, Stephen actually believes in what his Senator stands for and turns the offer down. Unbeknownst to him however, the damage has already been done.
Meanwhile, Stephen finds himself attracted to young intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) on their campaign team. What started off as an innocent bit of fun for both concerned, soon gets complicated beyond belief.
The deeper into the campaign they all get, Stephen finds himself swimming further against the tide in a whole sea of troubled waters.
What's clear from the outset is that Clooney has made yet another film for a cerebral adult audience. And God bless him for that. The film, based on the play Farragut North, is an unashamed character driven piece, set against a political backdrop.
It's a hard sell to any mainstream audience, even with Clooney's involvement, but that shouldn't deter them from what is a sharp and absorbing film.
Clooney is also clever in not taking centre stage, instead leaving that space for Gosling to fill, who proves yet again that he's more than ready for leading man status. He doesn't do himself any harm of course by being surrounded by heavyweight hitters Hoffman and Giamatti, who both just crackle every time they're on screen they have that much electricity.
But these elder statesmen don't get it all their own way. Wood puts in an effortless performance as the rookie intern. When Wood and Gosling share the screen, there's almost an audible click.
And then there's kudos for Clooney: as an actor he takes enough of a back seat to allow the talent around him to shine; as a writer he proves that he can deliver something that could easily have ended up as being drab and dreary, and giving it a driving momentum that can hold an audiences' attention span; and as a director he adds unexpected flair to what could have been a directing-by-numbers affair. Yes, he's that sickeningly talented.
The only slight problem is who will actually go and see it. Well anyone who enjoyed the TV series The West Wing should catch this without fail, as Clooney has, unwittingly or not, recreated a similar winning formula that made Aaron Sorkin's show such a critical hit. In fact one of the biggest surprises is that the film didn't come from Sorkin's pen, and you can't get greater praise than that.
The Ides of March is that rare treat that doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator of an audience. Instead it gives whoever chooses to watch it a little more credit, by offering a compelling drama with a cast truly on top of their game. But if that isn't enough for some, yes it does have George Clooney in it.
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