One could be forgiven for suggesting that George Clooney’s once promising directorial career had ground to something of a halt upon the release of 2008’s Leatherheads, a clunky, overlong failed homage to the screwball comedies of the 1930’s. Alas, The Ides Of March marks a return to form of sorts, with a film that follows closer in the tradition of his sophomore feature Good Night and Good Luck, the remarkable story of Edward Murrow. The Ides Of March charts a period during the election primaries for a new Democratic candidate for the presidency of the Unites States Of America. Clooney is a notable, and a staunch liberal, so for the filmmaker to be tackling such a subject will surprise very few. What might surprise many is the direction in which he takes The Ides Of March.
With his portrayal of the Democrat party as one no different to the manner in which the more traditionally “evil” political parties are presented, Clooney has really thrown a curveball. Rather than the left-wing love-in that one might expect, he instead presents a scenario in which backstabbing and double-crossing those on the same team is the norm, and where even the most hopeful of figures can be lost within the cutthroat world of politics.
Ryan Gosling makes his fourth great appearance of 2011 with The Ides Of March, and the one most certain to garner him attention from the Academy come next Spring. While it’s not as creatively satisfying as his work in Blue Valentine, which to date remains his most vital turn (superseding even the magnificent Half Nelson), and while it lacks the intensity of his Driver (in Drive), his performance as the idealistic junior campaign manager at the centre of The Ides Of March makes for a worthy addition to his increasingly more and more impressive body of work. Gosling is surrounded by an impressive supporting cast, with Philip Seymour Hoffman perhaps the standout as his senior, Evan Rachel Wood compelling, and Jeffrey Wright and Paul Giamatti making for worthy bastards of the highest order. Clooney himself is surprisingly slight in presence, fleeting in appearance for the early portion of the film. That’s not to say that his presence cannot be felt though; his character quite literally features in almost every scene, be it in the many campaign posters that litter the scenario, or upon the lips of every other character in the film. In that respect Clooney’s role in character reflects that of the director himself, his imprint felt upon every area of the films construct.
Befitting the nature of the storyline, The Ides Of March and its tale of subterfuge and spin smartly reminds of the classic political features that Hollywood produced in their heyday. Falling somewhere Robert Rossen’s All The King’s Men and Otto Preminger’s Advise & Consent (surely the landmark title for such fare), The Ides Of March charts the age old tale of morality in the face of necessity. Of a means to an end. Good people, by way of happenstance and contrivance against them cannot simply be good people. The situation won’t allow for that, and it’s in this area where Clooney’s film is bestowed with a sense of tragedy worthy of the it’s dramatic title. The inevitability of the fall from grace of the charming and wide eyed Gosling that opens The Ides Of March is the anchor upon which all chastity ought to be measured, and its with that in focus that one can’t help but be affected by the story being worn. At times The Ides Of March plays out much like the paranoia conspiracy thrillers of the 1970’s, in turn recalling an earlier Clooney take on that particular sub genre Michael Clayton.
While I’d hasten to declare The Ides Of March the tour de force that many seem keen to label it, it’s certainly a step in the right direction for Clooney, and a film which ought to be celebrated for that fact at least.