Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Morris (George Clooney) faces the greatest challenge of his campaign in the upcoming Ohio primary. His campaign manager Paul Philip (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his ace troubleshooter Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) are trying to win the state for their boss who would be the likely choice for the presidential nomination. But, a clandestine meeting with the opposition’s manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), puts Stephen’s career, and his idealism, on the line in “The Ides of March.”
In his fourth outing behind the camera, writer-director-producer-star George Clooney brings us a fast-paced political thriller that is obvious at times in its plotline but makes up for it with an amazingly talented acting ensemble. Clooney’s Morris is an important character but the director wisely uses him sparingly. The focus of the film is on Stephen as he makes the political journey, behind the scenes, from idealist to jaded politico.
This is an actor’s film first and foremost and Clooney elicits strong performances across the board. Ryan Gosling is having one hell of year with three films out this year and he gives a solid arc to Stephen Meyers. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are in fine fettle as the opposing campaign managers who wheel and deal in the political world to garner endorsements and get votes. The dog-eat-dog world of politics at the presidential level calls for good amount of cynicism and their Paul Philip and Tom Duffy characters demonstrate this beautifully.
The rest of the fine cast – including Evan Rachel Wood as a campaign volunteer who gets in trouble, Marisa Tomei as a hardboiled political reporter, and Jeffrey Wright as an ambitious senator who wants to use his political influence to parlay electoral votes for Secretary of State, if Morris wins – flesh out their characters to make this a true ensemble effort.
Techs are expert with sharp-edged camerawork by Phedon Papamichael, capturing the excitement of a presidential campaign, and a music score by Andre Desplat . Production is first-rate across the board. “The Ides of March” harkens back to political campaign films such as “The Best Man (1964),” “The Candidate (1972)” and “Primary Colors (1998).” I give it a B.
Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling, "Drive") is the idealistic press secretary for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) who is making his bid for the White House. With Morris's win in Ohio's Democratic primary in jeopardy due to the shifting allegiances of Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright, "Source Code"), Stephen makes a risky move and agrees to a hush-hush meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, "Win Win"), the campaign manager of Morris's opponent. This tips the domino that will lead to Myers's very own "The Ides of March."
For his fourth film behind the camera, George Clooney adapts the play "Farragut North" with its author, Beau Willimon, and his producing partner Grant Heslov for his second strongest film to date. Clooney's chosen the role most suited to himself - that of the candidate - in an ensemble that stars Gosling as the very picture of a rude awakening. This cynical look at politics has a couple of twists which will probably only surprise those who believe the best of human nature, but it's a well made, well-acted drama arriving at a time when voters on both sides of the political spectrum are voicing their unhappiness.
The film begins with ironic foreshadowing as Myers, standing in for his candidate, goofs about performing a soundcheck for that evening's debate. He believe he's hitched himself to a winner and is looking like a golden boy himself. He's on good terms with the press (the New York Times's Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei, "Crazy, Stupid, Love.") acting as overall representative), his boss, renowned campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his staff. When a twenty year-old intern who just happens to be the daughter of the Democratic National Committee head Jack Stearns (Gregory Itzin, TV's '24') flirts, Myers ends up bedding Molly (Evan Rachel Wood, "The Conspirator," HBO's 'Mildred Pierce'). Life couldn't be better until Ida corners him about that secret meeting. Then Molly, needing help, makes a startling admission that presents him with a PR nightmare (this has been neatly foreshadowed as well, when the couple spend their first night together).
Gosling's had a hell of a year, but this is the least of his 2011 roles. The character goes from white to black as it a switch has been thrown, making choices in the third act which belie Myers's moral compass. He's more of a symbol than a real person with Tomei more forceful portraying political realities. More moral complexity can be found within the ensemble from Giamatti's shrewd but not vindictive player to Wright's bold opportunist and Hoffman's seasoned pro. Clooney himself is perfect as a liberal dream of a candidate with an amazing wife (Jennifer Ehle, "Contagion") at his side. Evan Rachel Wood also has a two-note character to play, but makes a lovely sacrificial lamb. Max Minghella ("The Social Network") leaves no impression.
The film has a look that matches Myers, from brights to deep darks with patriotic reflections supplying symbolism. If anything, art direction may be a little too crisp and clean for the chaos of a presidential campaign.
"The Ides of March" is a solid political drama which leaves one wondering just why any human being would ever court the political arena. Its 'twists' may not be as surprising as they are meant to be. More shocking is that as the catalyst of for a young man's lost innocence, the fictional Mike Morris still looks like dream candidate at film's end.
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