Now Playing Review

Ides of March Smart but Simple

Sitting in a dark theatre watching a film about behind the scenes backstabbing in politics hardly seems like entertainment escapism in today’s highly charged partisan environment. Between the Occupy Wall Street “movement,” the GOP debates, and the seemingly endless string of Presidential press conferences and briefings, our national politicians are beyond omnipresent.

But against all odds, George Clooney has managed to pique our curiosity with The Ides of March. And, even in the midst of all the daily finger-pointing and grandstanding clatter, it’s a more than satisfying examination of campaign melodrama.

Clooney plays Presidential hopeful, Governor ‘Mike Morris,’ the Democratic Party’s golden boy with the silver tongue and the bedroom eyes. In the film’s open we see his staff prep a Ohio convention hall hours before a primary debate – all set to MSNBC news coverage narration from Rachel Maddow.

The rising star on team ‘Morris’ is second in command advisor, ‘Stephen Meyers,’ played by Ryan Gosling. Smart and shrewd, focused and idealistic to a fault.

Much of the banter and maneuvering comes off authentic. Director Clooney and his writing partners, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon (adapted from his stage play Farragut North), know the terrain well and the internal conflicts and hierarchical positioning are the strengths of the story.

Especially convincing is the clash between Gosling and his mentor/superior advisor, ‘Paul Zara,’ played with his usual gruff and contemplative vulnerability by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Wisely, the ‘Morris’ platform, which we glimpse briefly in debates, town hall meetings, and talking head shows (Chris Matthews’ Hardball, Charlie Rose), focuses on energy independence rather than the economy. Although we still have to roll our eyes through platitudes about “the rich not paying their fair share of taxes” and hear a rival advisor (Paul Giamatti) rant about how Republicans are “…meaner than we are, tougher, and more disciplined…you gotta get down in the mud with the elephants.”

Whatever. Keen political insight that is not.

Comparisons can easily be drawn to our present political atmosphere, questions of religion, and President Obama; but mid way through the film the inevitable comparison to the Bill Clinton fall from grace pic, Primary Colors (1998), is unavoidable.

You guessed it, trouble with interns.

The intern in question in The Ides of March is delectably played by Evan Rachel Wood, almost certain to get Oscar attention for her ambitious temptress portrayal. She’s good.

The acting across the board is good – some of it excellent. The scenes between Gosling and Hoffman are especially rich.  

Also in the mix is the refreshingly Botox free Marisa Tomei as the film’s obligatory token political reporter, always looking for the scoop.

During one exchange with Gosling’s ‘Meyers,’ when she can see he is clearly invested too deeply in the Governor’s election chances – “He has to win!” – she pops his balloon with this: “They’re all nice guys – but he will let you down sooner or later.”

Not very subtle in the foreshadowing department; and ultimately, The Ides of March is pretty thin on story. 

And for that matter, depth.

Regarding its message – because trust me, when George Clooney makes a film about our political climate, there is a message – I think he accidentally hits the nail on the head.

 While he would most likely claim it was a commentary on the soul decaying lack of integrity that is inherent to political life, the real thrust of the picture is that too many of the folks working in government make it their life – in an unhealthy way. We are saddled not only with career politicians who don’t know when to walk away, but their manic advisors, phone honks, and pollsters who obsessively and self-indulgently rush into the theatre every chance they get and scream “FIRE!!!”

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