Friday, October 7, 2011

The Ides of March (George Clooney, 2011) -- B+

There's nothing about George Clooney's oeuvre unto this point that would suggest the understated grace and power found in The Ides of March, not so much subtle (Clooney's agenda consistently remains at the fore) as humble, especially in Clooney's decision to make hot-shot campaign adviser Stephen (Ryan Gosling) idealistic, but intelligent, naive (perhaps) but human - he's not merely a pawn to manipulate political rhetoric (unlike Clooney's hero-worship propaganda Good Night and Good Luck). Early in the film, sitting with cunning, cynical journalist Ida (Marisa Tomei), he gets knocked down a peg: "Your campaign efforts won't matter one bit to the everyday fuckers, go to work, come home, go to sleep - not one bit." A sharp script written by Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon (the film is based on his play Farragut North) offers Gosling, Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, and Evan Rachel Wood ample opportunity to captivate; though necessarily stagy in its talking heads template, Clooney alters shots well, often reserving close-ups for more tense moments, and ratcheting up tension through mise-en-scene, a lost art even in much contemporary art cinema. In what's essentially a terse morality tale, Gosling's idealist faces corruption via Wood's intern, who reveals a nasty little secret about Clooney's Governor Morris, whose campaign for a presidential nomination hinges primarily on winning Ohio and North Carolina. Naturally, he realizes idealism isn't as easy in practice as it is in theory, but Clooney never makes those choices dramatic tentpoles, instead realizing and offering snippets of discourse and choice, fracturing drama rather than ratcheting it up; the film's best scene may be Gosling sitting in his car, rain beating down on the windshield, realizing the depth of his actions, only a little too late. Some lines are a bit on the nose; Paul (Seymour Hoffman) claims the Republicans "can't find a nominee who isn't a world class fuck up," or when Gosling is approached by rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Giamatti), Gosling exclaims: "This is the kind of shit the Republicans pull!" The Ides of March is best when it refrains from real-world ties, per se (the choice to use actual pundits is an ungainly error, the same tactics used by the abysmal The Adjustment Bureau) and focuses on what Clooney perceives as a sort of passive venality, alluding to actual politics rather than explicit parallels. In doing so, he offers an ambivalency that walks a compelling line between outright cynicism and hopeful humanism, lamenting corruption, but not pompous enough to suggest a quick fix or reduce the complexity of career aspirations getting roughed-up in the cogs of a permanently broken political machine.

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