In Theaters Review of The Ides of March: George Clooney directs and Ryan Gosling stars in this smart, fast-paced thriller that will make you thank your lucky stars you don’t work in politics. (Unless you do. In which case, may I be so bold as to suggest some therapy?)
I always get nervous when I know a film has been adapted from a successful play, because too often the cast’s dialogue and delivery ends up seeming like they’re on stage in front of a live audience. There’s over-acting, there’s over-enunciation, and everything just seems too dramatic. Examples of what I’m talking about can be found in Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things and In the Company of Men, as well as in Mike Nichols’ Closer (one of the worst offenders of this type that I’ve ever seen). The Ides of March—co-produced, co-written, co-starring, and directed by George Clooney—was based on Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, which in turn was loosely (and very loosely at that, I must assume) based on Howard Dean’s 2004 Democratic primary campaign. Thankfully, you’d never be able to guess its origins thanks to gripping performances by its all-star cast. I heard not even one over-enunciated word—phew.
The story revolves around political-strategy whiz-kid Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), who has nothing short of a male crush on up-and-coming Pennsylvania Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Mike Morris (Clooney). Meyers believes that Morris is the real deal—the only guy who really says what he means, means what he says, so much so that he just might be this country’s only hope of turning things around. (Robert Redford’s The Candidate comes to mind when we see Morris earnestly and frankly describing his various stances on the main issues.) Yet early on, Meyers gets some sage advice from the savvy, cutthroat journalist Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei): stop holding this guy Morris up on a pedestal, because (like all politicians) he’s going to fall off of it sooner or later. Unfortunately, Meyers doesn’t listen.
Nor does he listen to his gut instinct, which initially warns him from meeting up with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) after Duffy calls him out of the blue and hints at a potential job offer. AND THEN Meyers goes and gets involved with the ten-years-younger, extremely sexually aggressive Morris campaign intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), who also just so happens to be connected to a particularly powerful Democratic party leader. Someone needs to slap this guy upside the head already.
You might be able to tell by now that the kind of political issues that are debated endlessly on the news (and Facebook and Twitter) are not a focus of The Ides of March. Despite Clooney’s well-known personal political beliefs and activism, there’s no favoritism or agenda being pushed here. If anything, everyone who’s even remotely involved in or associated with our government’s inner-workings comes off as a pathetic slime-ball or an unapologetic, self-absorbed backstabber (or both). It’s ugly.
But despite that ugliness and the sinking feeling you’ll have at the end of the film when the voice in the back of your head tells you that most of the messed-up stories in The Ides of March likely happened to somebody in real life (or are currently happening right now), you’ll still be immensely entertained. Everyone in the cast (which also includes Philip Seymour Hoffman as Morris’ grizzled and paranoid campaign manager and Jeffrey Wright as an influential senator) could not be more perfect in their roles. And Gosling proves that he can hold his own among the award-winning veterans, making us shake our heads at Meyer’s loss of innocence and increasingly questionable choices.
The Ides of March stumbles ever so slightly in its final act, when the screenwriting team chooses to help certain characters out of a potentially devastating situation by handing them a sick but convenient solution (which I assume is a drastic departure from what happens in the stage version). But the film’s unsettling tone, use of shadows and darkness across many beautiful shots, and tense score—on top of the fast clip with which the action unfolds and the aforementioned fantastic performances—make my quibble insignificant. The Ides of March is a perfect fall film, even if it will make you dread the nonstop (already starting!) hoopla around the 2012 election.
Redbox movies from the cast of The Ides of March: