The Ides Of March (2011) is a polished political drama that takes a snapshot look at what we all expect from the political world – corruption, scandal-shrouded dealings and underhanded shenanigans. For the most part the film accomplishes its goal of poking the seething underbelly of political corruption with impressive results from a fine ensemble cast with George Clooney at the reins. Clooney also co-stars and wrote the screenplay along with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon from an adaptation of Willimon’s 2008 play Farragut North. The film is beautifully succinct, every shot an economical patchwork of detail piecing together the final days of a hotly contested Ohio presidential primary race. One might easily mistake this film for something mined from the daily newspaper or online media aggregator and in this day and age it’s hardly a stretch. What may come across as thin to some, the convenience by which some tangles are quickly resolved over the course of the second act, is really just a smart filmmaker who knows when to narrow the lens on the important stuff because you can’t tell everyone’s story in a 90 minute feature. Besides, it’s hard to criticize Clooney for making it all look so easy.
Clooney portrays the slick Politician with ease and his cunning portrayal of presidential hopeful Mike Morris is so engaging enough you could almost buy the rhetoric – it’s funny how believable Clooney looks on those campaign signs chopping air with applause. Opposite Clooney’s career politician is up-and-coming hopeful boy next door campaign press secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) who muddies up the hectic last days of a messy Ohio presidential primary plenty when he uncovers a lot more to the governor than meets the press. It’s unthinkable to miss this charged character piece with magnetic performances from Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright – though Wright is hardly more than background with a weak link that connects the plot with little room to do the great work we’ve come to expect from him. I would have liked to see more from Tomei but she made an impression as usual with the charm of a cocktail waitress knowing her smile informs every conversation she’s ever had.
The Ides of March gives the overall aesthetics of the political arena the right mix of familiar and distinct. It’s always so painful when ordinary is so ordinary. The actors are well-played and Clooney gives everyone an opportunity to play off one another’s performance without feeling heavy-handed or grandstanding. Clooney has a lot to say in his films, embracing a intertextuality that connects familiar themes and ideologies from films he’s made or been a part of or others that he feels lend themselves to the film he’s making at the time. Ides reinforces Clooney’s talents that far exceed his star power alone – this is his fourth film since Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002) and his prowess for character work is clear, distinct and effective.
The Ides of March is a fine and impressive ensemble of talent that makes everything look so effortless and polished as to suggest it was easy when no film can boast as such. The stars work in front of the camera and behind it, attracting big names like Leonardo DiCaprio in the producers circle, Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography and editor Stephen Mirrione among others. Clint Eastwood is also fond of working with the same people and it’s quite evident this sense of camaraderie and collective spirit works well. If pressed for criticism one might say Ides gets off track because of the meticulous plot; the detailed points that connect all the players yet somehow feels a little too orderly – makes for convenience in the eye of happenstance. For the political suspense drama junkie I am certain this is a moot point and for loyal fans and aficionados of Clooney the actor, producer, writer, et al., most likely there is no room for argument or any more than surface criticism; perhaps. Ides Of March nevertheless is a topical jaunt into the seething fish tank of American politics where who you are is often who you stand with and what you do is not as important as what you can prove, leverage and nest egg to ensure a career that collects checkers and makes markers for the rainy day that never comes alone.