I really need to get a move on. It’s almost the end of 2011 and there are too many potentially good movies to be watched before 2012. And so I began my (hopeful) end-of-year movie blitz with a 2012 Oscar frontrunner, The Ides of March, directed by, co-written by and starring George Clooney.
I’m a sucker for political dramas (I thought the 1998 John Travolta film Primary Colors was fantastic), and so I had high hopes for this film, which also stars some of my favourite actors, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei. However, The Ides of March really belongs to Ryan Gosling, who continues to impress with a controlled, Oscar-worthy performance as Stephen Meyers, a junior campaign manager for Clooney’s (potential) Democratic presidential candidate, Mike Morris.
Without giving away too much, the film follows the young, bright and extremely capable Meyers as he tries to assist Pennsylvania Governor Morris in securing the state of Ohio in the Democrat’s presidential candidate race against an Arkansas Senator. Securing Ohio effectively clinches the nomination (and essentially the White House), so it’s a big deal, but both Meyers and Morris are idealists who want to run the race with integrity and without compromising their values. However, as they both find out throughout the course of the film, politics is a dirty game where the lines and boundaries and continually being pushed and blurred. To what extremes will they go in order to get what they want?
I won’t divulge more than that except to say that The Ides of March is, at its core, a somewhat cynical political tale about the loss of innocence. It begins slowly and is what some would call a slow burner, so it won’t be for everyone. But I enjoyed every minute of it. Apart from giving viewers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the shady deals, compromises and grey areas in these political processes — daily battles with competitors, internal power struggles, schmoozing journalists and smoothing out scandals — the stylish intensity that underlies the film from start to finish really elevates this otherwise unremarkable story (if you think about it) to one of the best dramas of the year.
The perfect performances from the awesome cast must receive a significant chunk of the credit. Gosling has already been nominated once (for Half Nelson in 2006), and this could be the year he takes out Best Actor at the Oscars. Clooney (Syriana), Hoffman (Capote) and Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) are all Oscar winners and Giamatti is a multiple nominee, and each brings a touch of class to their character — all of whom possess a different side to what is originally presented. And Evan Rachel Wood, who has a key role as a Morris campaign intern, is surprisingly good and steals a lot of scenes (no mean feat considering the company).
The Ides of March is a clever, well-executed drama with impeccable performances. It’s probably not for the casual filmgoer looking for light, fast-paced thrills, but I think lovers of (American) politics and serious dramas will thoroughly enjoy it.
4.5 stars out of 5