Today: May 29, 2024
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Ides Of March, The

Having pummelled billions out of audiences with their Summer tentpoles, Hollywood now turns its attentions to the awards season that allows them to make money from smaller and more ‘grown up’ productions, productions known popularly as ‘Oscar Bait’.

Having pummelled billions out of audiences with their Summer tentpoles,
Hollywood now turns its attentions to the awards season that allows them to
make money from smaller and more ‘grown up’ productions, productions known
popularly as ‘Oscar Bait’.

Based on Bill Willimon’s Broadway play Farragut North, Ides of March boasts a literary pedigree, a stellar cast and a
script that is decidedly a cut above your average Hollywood ‘prestige picture’.
Ostensibly a political thriller, this is a film that is all about the
characters and the performances.

Stephen (Gosling) is a political operative working behind the scenes of a
presidential campaign. Said to possess one of the greatest “media minds” in
American politics, Stephen is feared by his loyalty-obsessed boss Paul (Hoffman) and coveted by the
manipulative Tom (Giamatti) who runs
the opposition’s campaign. Poised on the lip of victory, Stephen’s candidate
starts to look shaky as the opposition begin to undermine the youthful
candidate (Clooney) by playing up
the fear of the unknown. As the campaign swings between issues of loyalty to
principle and fear of what might be, Stephen finds these issues affecting both
his career and his private life as people work to push him out of the campaign
and bury the truth regarding a candidate’s involvement in a potential political
scandal.

Ides of March is very much a genre piece. Between its zinger-littered dialogue and its backdrop of
shady back rooms and small-town campaign offices, the film both looks and feels
like an episode of The West Wing.
While the film does touch upon the differences in the candidates’ policies, the
real focus here is not upon the content of the politics so much as upon the
political process and the personalities that dominate it.

The thematic tug-of-war between
loyalty and fear plays out on a number of levels including the relationships
between Stephen and the heads of respective campaigns. The performances make
this thematic balancing act genuinely beautiful to behold as Giamatti revels in
cynicism and Hoffman pulsates with hypocritical self-righteous indignation.
Trapped in the middle of these raging male egos is the character of Stephen who
benefits hugely from Gosling’s capacity for portraying what can only be
described as an intensely sympathetic and eminently engaging black slate. Indeed, as in Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Driver,
Gosling’s capacity to hold our attention lies in what he does not say and does
not do. Impassive to the end, Gosling’s performance hints at great bubbling reserves
of emotional energy that could erupt in any number of different ways. Much of
the film’s tension lies not in the details of its under-written plot (there is
no real threat in the possibility of Clooney’s character losing the election)
but in waiting to find out what the various characters will do.

Littered with wonderful performances,
Ides of March seems genetically engineered to harvest award nominations and it
will be genuinely surprising if its producers did not walk away from the 2012
awards season with a lot to smile about. However, beyond its capacity to
entertain with dazzling performances and periodically sensational dialogue, Ides
of March is by no means a classic.

Whether on a visual or narrative
level, Clooney and co-screenwriter Grant
Heslov
really do not show us anything that we have not seen before. The
tale of idealism crushed beneath the boots of political expediency is an old
political saw and while the themes of fear and loyalty are interesting,
Clooney’s direction fails to elevate them above the level of a subtle motif. Perhaps
if Clooney had been less plodding in his direction and the film’s accusation
had been more concrete and impassioned then Ides of March might have been a
truly memorable piece of political filmmaking. Instead, Clooney’s latest is
nothing more than an entertaining and competently directed romp featuring great
performances from some of Hollywood’s most potent (and promising) acting
talents. Some Friday nights, that
is more than enough.

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