Wednesday, 26 October 2011
'The Ides of March' review:
The story of a wide-eyed idealist's transformation into a dead-eyed cynic, 'The Ides of March' is George Clooney's fourth film behind the camera and, based on the play Farragut North, marks a return to the type of earnest liberal outrage that marked his one unequivocal success to date as a director: 'Good Night, and Good Luck'. It's also the first major movie tangibly stained with the disappointment that has followed the euphoria of Barack Obama's 2008 election victory, with Clooney casting himself as a presidential candidate who similarly promises much but - even during the nomination process - is forced to concede many of his closely held ideals in order to become president.
With its focus on the American electoral process - with terms like "delegates" and "primaries" bandied about - Aaron Sorkin's seminal TV series 'The West Wing' is an obvious point of reference and indeed that show's legacy is felt here in some of the fast-paced banter between the candidate and his staffers, as well as in the breathless walk and talks that see strategy mapped out in corridors. But whereas Sorkin depicted political aides who fought passionately for their ideals in spite of a flawed system, here the fall of Ryan Gosling's campaign strategist paints a more pessimistic picture of American political life, with the relatively young and (we're told) brilliant campaigner coming to disregard his principles through a combination of ambition and betrayal. And whilst 'The West Wing' is, at its core, about a group of highly intelligent and well-meaning Democrats who always have each other's backs, 'The Ides of March' follows a group of highly intelligent and well-meaning Democrats who will sell out the few friends they have the moment their political careers are jeopardised.
The resolute heartlessness of Clooney's film will come as a surprise to many, with an overwhelming mood of hopelessness surrounding the fate of his characters and the suggestion that genuine friendship is impossible in high-end politics. Almost no one appears to have been satisfied ultimately, not Philip Seymour Hoffman's highly strung campaign manager, his underhanded political rival played by Paul Giamatti or Evan Rachel Wood's tragic and sexy young intern. In this world those with the least scruples are those who seem to get ahead - with Marisa Tomei's investigative journalist (portrayed as little more than a gossip merchant) and Jeffery Wright's ambitious, mercenary senator emerging from the thriller's twists and turns unscathed. That all the double-crossing schemers depicted are supporters of the same political party only heightens the sense of despair.
It's not as accomplished as 'Good Night, and Good Luck' or as inventive as 'Confessions of a Dangerous Mind', but with snappy, quotable dialogue ("you can start a war, you can bankrupt a country, but you can't fuck the interns! They get you for that!"), good performances from the uniformly excellent cast and Clooney's assured, unfussy handling of the material, 'The Ides of March' is an entirely decent political thriller. Be warned though, it's not exactly a "feel-good" movie. After all, when one of Hollywood's most outspoken liberals loses all faith in politics, what hope is there for the rest of us?!
'The Ides of March' opens on Friday (28th October) in the UK and is rated '15' by the BBFC.