The Ides of March

3 Nov

Title: The Ides of March
Year: 
2011
Director: 
George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on the play by Mr. Willimon
Starring: 
Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marissa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle
MPAA Rating: 
R, pervasive language
Runtime: 
101 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
85%

 

At the start of 2011 if you had asked me, sight unseen, what my most-anticipated film for the year was I would have no doubt replied with The Ides of March, that or We Bought a Zoo. Now, obviously that opinion for any given obsessive moviegoer such as myself varies as the year moves along, right now Shame is definitely the film I look the most forward to seeing, but I was still really looking forward to getting to see The Ides of March. The reason for that was that it just seemed like the sort of movie I would eat up, and that’s pretty much because of how involved George Clooney was in the making of it. I love Mr. Clooney; he’s a true movie star, handsome and charming and a damn fine actor to boot, the guy’s always awesome and the choices he’s making at this stage of his career are truly a joy to watch take form. And he was deeply involved with the making of this film, taking on directing, writing, acting and producing duties on it, a very political film based on Beau Willimon’s very successful play Farragut North.

If you remember, the last time Mr. Clooney took those duties on a political film the result was Good Night, and Good Luck (though that one was produced solely by Grant Heslov, Mr. Clooney producing partner who also produced and co-wrote this one), and that film was amazing, I have it ranked as my fifteenth favorite of all 2005 and it got Mr. Clooney Oscar nominations for his direction and writing. So expectations were certainly running high for this one just because of Mr. Clooney’s involvement and the themes this one would tackle, and that only increased when I heard about the cast that was shaping up to make this one: You had Mr. Clooney himself, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marissa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright and, of course, the apparent successor to Mr. Clooney’s infinite wit, charm and sheer talent, Ryan Gosling.

I’ve said this is the year of Ryan Gosling, more than it is the year of Brad Pitt or Jessica Chastain or whomever you want to tag it as the year of, the guy has starred in what’s to this date my favorite film of all 2011, Drive, and is using that film along with this one, and along with Crazy, Stupid, Love. which I’ve yet to watch, to really establish himself as the best actor of his generation. And Mr. Gosling’s at it again here, leading an ensemble full of the some of the best working actors today and absolutely nailing it. And that’s kind of my general opinion about The Ides of March, that even though it wasn’t the absolute masterpiece I was expecting, and even though it’s not my favorite film of the year, it’s probably the best acted film we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t make any sort of grandiose statements about the world of politics today, and it may be too comfortable in its own skin because it knows how great its pieces are, but I mean, the level of acting that goes on in every single scene here is just a beauty to behold.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is still one of the finest films to have come out all year, and will certainly crack my Top 10 for the year so far once I rank it after finishing this review, but I guess a part me had hyped this one up too much and it just wasn’t going to quench my expectations no matter what. It tells a story about running a political campaign in modern American politics, a very timely topic and one Mr. Clooney is obviously a perfect fit to explore, as we see what these arduous campaigns do to those involved, the toll it takes in both body and soul, it’s extremely taxing stuff, amd we see if it’s possible for a candidate at the end of a campaign to still be able to stand behind the values and promises he was making when it started out.

And honestly, I’m not one for overly-political films, I didn’t want this one to aggressively make a statement about the state of politics, but I guess I was kind of expecting it to, and ultimately this film is not like that at all, it’s not about the right of the left or about the cynicism behind it all, it obviously has a bit of that because it’s about politics, but this film is really just an entertaining movie and on that was built, plain and simple, for the enjoyment of those who love watching some seriously outstanding displays of acting chops.

We close in on Stephen Meyers, Mr. Gosling’s character, a really good press secretary who’s in charge of the campaign for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris, a pretty idealistic and eco-friendly candidate played by Mr. Clooney. We see these two characters accompanied by a slew of others, whether it’s Morris’ veteran campaign manager, Paul Zara played by Mr. Hoffman, or the campaign manager for the opposition that Mr. Giamatti plays, Tom Duffy. These are all players we see behind a pretty pivotal point in the campaign, the Ohio primary, and under that backdrop we see a political campaign unfold, the handshakes that are exchanged, the thought put into the speeches, the sheer exhaustion is exacts on everyone involved. And we see a lot of its players are pretty realistic guys, who know they’ll have to make compromises and lie, but who all believe in their cause, and then we have Stephen, who pretty much wants Morris to win in order to climb up the ladder and maybe get a post like Zara’s.

And you get that this was based on a play, and you get that this is an actor’s showcasing dream, because there are points here, particularly in the first two acts that some of these accomplished thespians just let it rip, Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Giamatti have some monologues here that clearly belong front-and-center in stage, but they are two of the best actors of our lifetime, so you can bet your ass they will make them work wonders in a big screen, too. The catch for Mr. Gosling’s character comes with his involvement with two women. One of them is Molly, a young intern whom he sleeps with, using her innocence about the business she’s in to get some information from her, she’s played by Evan Rachel Wood, who I’ve longed championed as one of the best young actresses around and who I thought nailed this role, going at it with Mr. Gosling superbly well and really showing some depth after we start shedding layers off of Molly, getting a lot of emotion from the script. The other woman with whom Stephen tangoes is the journalist played by Marissa Tomei, another actress who I love and who can do no wrong for me, it’s really good to see those two working against each other as their characters try to pry intel from each other.

Another actor who just totally owns the screen here is Jeffrey Wright, who I reckon should be infinitely better known than he is and who’s already starred in one of the year’s best films, Source Code (which I gave an A- and currently sits as the 18th best of the year so far). He’s just a phenomenal actor, and he had already been awesome against Mr. Clooney in Syriana (for which Mr. Clooney obviously won his Oscar) and here he gets this small but pivotal role in the movie as Senator Thompson, a guy who’s endorsement would be key into getting a lock on the nomination, and the way Mr. Wright takes command of the screen here is just awesome to watch. Again, this is more than worth the price of admission if only because of the acting in display.

George Clooney also shows that he’s really a very good director, he’s obviously very much in love with making movies about smart men in some really complex situations. And he builds up this really awesome atmosphere here, creating intrigue around the inner-thoughts of Stephen and how hard to read and amoral he is, the whole political vibe of this film is just executed in a way that you won’t be able to help but look back to some of the best political thrillers from three or four decades ago, the oldschool pacing Mr. Clooney brings forth is a treat to watch, as is his performance as Morris. The Ides of March ultimately wasn’t the best movie of the year like I had hoped for all those months ago, and it doesn’t provide any kind of new information about politics or make a big statement about them, but that’s just as well, because it has an ensemble that goes to work with this material, and they more than make up for any of the film’s small faults.

Grade: A

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