Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
Are you glued to the cable news channels? Is listening to campaign rhetoric your idea of a good time? Oh, and most importantly, are you a Democrat? If the answer to all three questions isn’t an unmitigated ‘yes’, then feel free to cross The Ides of March off your To-Do list.
In the film, director/co-writer/co-star/co-producer George Clooney examines some behind-the-scenes political intrigue of a Democratic Presidential Primary fight between a Governor promising hope and change (played by Clooney himself) and an essentially unimportant Senator representing the status quo (so unimportant I won’t even name the actor).
But don’t worry too much about that, the plot is really centered on the campaign managers and their machinations. Paul Giamatti is doing what he can to see the Senator gain the nomination while Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ryan Gosling attempt to work their magic for the Governor. Everything is blunt and predictable, not just in the political propaganda but in how the backstabbing and power brokering plays out; Anyone familiar with this story structure will likely see any attempt to create a twist coming like some screenwriting 101 paint-by-number exercise.
On the plus side, the acting overall is fairly good. Clooney does the usual impersonation of his own public persona. Gosling has a way of making any interaction seem intimate and magnetic. And Evan Rachel Wood once again plays a young girl navigating an adult world. The two standout performances come from Giamatti and Hoffman. They’re the only members of the cast that make the constant scheming seem both intelligent and fun. Playing cynics is no stretch for either but it’s a wonderful job of casting.
Stepping behind the camera, Clooney’s direction once again favors the actors, relying on frequent close-ups to ensure that if people take one thing away from it all, it’s how gosh darn good the performances were. And while that’s true for the most part, the heavy-handedness of the project as a whole never really allows us to settle down and become invested in the proceedings. It’s more like a teleplay with some slick production value.
There’s nothing glaringly wrong with the film but in the current landscape of political gridlock and finger pointing, the ability for audiences to leave the real world behind is lost. Normally, it wouldn’t seem important to harp on that point but the wheeling and dealing aspects are so overwrought and obvious that being something purely entertaining would have been a preferred alternative. What passes for cleverness in the script is overshadowed by the politics and if there’s one thing people don’t believe in these days, it’s politicians.
So although the underlying message fluctuates between ‘Power Corrupts’ and ‘Hell Hath No Fury Like a Campaign Manager Scorned’, the overt images and sound bytes hit the political nail on the Donkey’s head far too squarely. The Ides of March showcases a bevy of talented actors but like the elected officials it illustrates, much of the flash and panache is merely a facade and it eventually comes crumbling down.
The Ides of March hits theaters on October 7, 2011 and is rated R for pervasive language.
More on The Ides of March:
–News, trailer and cast list