Well it’s been a hectic time over at focuspullr HQ of late, what with other commitments and illness keeping me away from the blogosphere, though I’ve still managed to see a few movies. Highlights of recent viewings have been Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, Justin Kurzel’s Snowtown, Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive and the subject of this post, George Clooney’s The Ides of March.
Taking his title from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, signalling political intrigue and backstabbing, Clooney marshalls a superb ensemble cast for the second overtly political film of his career, after Good Night, And Good Luck. He stars as Mike Morris, a liberal, handsome governor of Pennsylvania, competing in the Democratic Primary elections, and aiming for the office of U.S. President. Heading up his campaign team is seasoned veteran Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) aided by hot new kid on the political block, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling).
Meyers is youthful, sharp and politically astute; hitting all the right buttons with his campaign speeches for the governor, and quietly confident that Morris is the man for the White House job. However, his ill-advised decision to attend a meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the campaign manager for a rival Democratic Candidate, puts him in a compromising position with his employer and unwittingly leads to him becoming tangled up in a complex political web also involving the governor and a beautiful young intern, played by Evan Rachel Wood.
Though it lacks the serious analytical depth and complexity of 70s political drama’s such as All The President’s Men or The Candidate, which it calls to mind, The Ides of March soon turns into a cracking political thriller. Clooney and his co-writers Grant Heslov (who also worked with Clooney on Good Night and Good Luck) and Beau Willimon (on whose play, Farragut North, the film is based) keep a firm grip on the narrative tension as the backstabbing, bluffing and double-crossings gather pace. Gosling is excellent as the initially idealistic Meyers, who soon discovers that a career in politics is, in fact, not at all based on old-fashioned beliefs and ideals, but rather on who can best manipulate the state of play to his own ends. He is ably assisted by both Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, both heavy hitters in their own right, who bring great intelligence and subtlety to their respective supporting roles. Clooney also deserves a mention as the handsome, clean-cut governor, with a dangerous skeleton lurking in his campaign locker.
The 1970s feel of the film is apparent in the martial drumming which plays over the opening credits, and in the plain white lettering of the title, as well as in Clooney’s assured, non-showy direction. While he mostly lets the story do the talking, he also knows how to build visual suspense. The scene where Morris calls Seymour Hoffman’s character over to his jeep and leaves us and the camera outside is skilfull and unexpected. Clooney keeps the focus squarely on the character-driven narrative, which progresses logically, is always believable and concludes that even the most high-minded and morally robust of men can lay ideals aside to protect and further themselves, in pursuit of their own ambitions.
The Ides of March is on general release now.
Watch the trailer