IDES OF MARCH, THE
Enthusiastic, media savvy but idealistic staffer Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is making his mark as media spokesman for appealing presidential candidate Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), in the fight for Democratic nomination against Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell) in the Ohio Primary. When Itzin's veteran and wily campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) makes him an offer - and he has a fling with a Morris intern, Molly (Rachel Evan Wood) - Meyers clashes with the Morris campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and gets a crash course in dirty, dangerous politics, which challenges his idealism.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
On the basis of this film, and if he campaigned as effectively as he does as Governor Mike Morris, George Clooney would romp home as the next Democratic President of the United States.
But while it's perfectly timely [for a November 2011 Australian release], with the US Presidential campaign in its early stages (and with Australia's political soup simmering ahead of the next Federal election) The Ides of March is not just about the nature of political machinations. (The film was apparently held back to avoid crashing into the Obama campaign.)
The screenplay does explore the innards of campaigning through the office of Democratic Presidential aspirant, Morris and his two top aides, campaign boss Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and spokesman Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). Morris has all the hallmarks of a US liberal - without the religion. That's perhaps the one element that would knock a real candidate out of the Presidential race in the US. (Not in Australia, of course, where atheist Julia Gillard is Prime Minister ... if only by the toss of a coin.)
But the film's real currency is the human condition, when exposed to the rough elements of political gamesmanship. It is the very integrity and loyalty that the candidates espouse (especially Morris, in a stirring speech near the film's end) that is compromised in the pursuit of those lofty ambitions.
So if you enjoyed the backroom jostling of Primary Colours and the acerbic thrust of Wag the Dog, The Ideas of March will add to the collection of American politico dramas that pull no punches. But the film's most commendable aspect is its restraint, with its deft, nuanced observation of human nature. The transgressions are not painted with a broad brush or thrown explosively on the canvas like a bravura Basquiat or Pollock painting.
Much of this is the work of miniaturists, from writers and directors to the actors. Close ups and attention to detail take us straight into the personal spaces of the characters - and the core dramatic developments are deeply personal. It's not stuff like foreign affairs that alter the course of the campaigns or lives - it's the personal ones.
The most private indiscretions become major weapons in the campaign battle. And not just against the opponents. All that is now quite familiar to anyone who follows world affairs (and even those who take a passing interest in headlines) but director Clooney makes it interesting and fresh, deeply engaging and thought provoking.
As an actor, too, Clooney is on top of his material as the smart, totally electable and charming leader with decency and honesty oozing from every pore. Ryan Gosling is outstanding as the sharp media man and Philip Seymour Hoffman brings his enormous authority and authenticity to the role of campaign manager.
All the supports are marvellous, from Evan Rachel Wood's fatally eager intern to Paul Giamatti as Tom Duffy, the hard-nosed manipulator in the competing camp; to Geoffrey Wright as the Senator with a bag of crucial delegate votes who barters his votes for promises of power; and the exceptional Marisa Tomei as a New York Times political newshound.
Composer Alexandre Desplat has also excelled himself with an interestingly varied orchestral score which sometimes shrinks in size but never in intent.
Clooney is smart enough to let the film come to a contemplative conclusion in which our emotions and our minds scramble to come to terms with the enormity of the story. Engrossing, immensely relevant and completely timely, The Ides of March is a triumph for all concerned.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
Review by Louise Keller:
Idealism turns to disillusionment in this gripping political drama in which loyalty, principles and integrity tumble like a house of cards when betrayals alter perceptions. The details of the political process may be easier to follow for American audiences, but the essence of the emotions and motivations at the heart of the story are universally accessible.
Based on Beau Willimon's play Farragut North (inspired by real life events during Howard Dean's 2004 bid for the presidency), this is the kind of material for which George Clooney has a great feel, and which makes perfect sense for him - in the role of both director and star. But while the campaign is based around Clooney's Democratic presidential contender Governor Mike Morris, the film's focus is on his 30 year old silver-tongued whiz kid press secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling).
Just like Gosling himself, Meyers is a rising star, believing in the cause to which he is dedicated. Idealistically, he thinks nothing bad can happen when doing the right thing. Meyer's campaign manager boss Paul Zara (Hoffman) is a stickler for loyalty ('It's the only currency you can count on') and believes any error of judgment is not simply a mistake, but a choice deserving no consideration. In the opposition's camp, winning is the sole motivation and the mantra for campaign manager Tom Duffy (Giamatti) exists. It is the actions and interactions between these three characters that play out like a tense chess game, as they deliberate on the big decisions that may make or break the campaign.
Clooney invites us to be the flies on the wall in the swirl of activity in the campaign backrooms, where interns like 20 year old bright, pretty Molly Stearns (Wood) jump eagerly to carry files, coffee or potential scandal. It is the burgeoning secret relationship between Molly and Stephen that triggers the sequence of events that poses not only potential risks for the Governor's election chances but also the fates of those around him.
There are lovely insights into the give-take relationship with the media, whose deadlines pose inflexible hurdles for decision-making. Marisa Tomei's NY Times journalist knows full well the meaning of so-called friendship: it's simply an exchange of necessary commodities.
Timely in the current political climate, this is a delicately coloured tale of changed perceptions delivered by a superlative cast. Clooney has gravitas etched all over his handsome features and Gosling shows once again that he can carry a film. Ambition has no bedfellows as this scorcher of a film shows, thrusting knife after knife into the raw nerve of the political process. Engrossing and unforgettable.
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IDES OF MARCH, THE (M)
CAST: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle,
PRODUCER: George Clooney, George Heslov, Brian Oliver,
DIRECTOR: George Clooney
SCRIPT: George Clooney, Grant Heslov (play by Beau Willimon)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Phedon Papamichael
EDITOR: Stephen Mirrione
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sharon Seymour
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 24, 2011
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.