October 7, 2011
By Marc Glassman
Ides of March
George Clooney, director and co-script w/Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon (based on Willimon’s play “Farragut North”)
Starring: Ryan Gosling (Stephen Myers), George Clooney (Governor Mike Morris), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Paul Zara), Paul Giamatti (Tom Duffy), Evan Rachel Wood (Molly Stearns), Marisa Tomei (Ida Horowicz), Jeffrey Wright (Senator Thompson), Max Minghella (Ben)
It’s autumn and the smell of politics is in the air. It could be the spate of provincial elections that sparks that thought. Or perhaps it’s memories of important November elections in the United States. Whatever the reason–and it might be the combination of the chill in the air, the stylish post-vacation wardrobe of women and men and the tightly drawn formality that people adopt after Labour Day—the mixture of high flown talk and deep-in-the-muck intrigue that are part and parcel of the democratic system seems particularly appropriate to October and November.
So it is with some anticipation that one approaches Ides of March, the first political film of the season–even if its title evokes politics in the spring instead of autumn. Certainly, the chill and the formality and the wardrobe of big time political intrigue are the same in both seasons. Normally, the difference would be, to use a sporting metaphor, that spring is still the tryouts while autumn is the playoffs.
Don’t tell that to Caesar whose woeful ending occurred on the Ides of March or to the candidates working through the American primaries trying to become their party’s candidate for president. In George Clooney’s new film, he’s the candidate and the film’s director and co-writer. But Clooney is not the star of Ides of March–that role has been given to Canada’s Ryan Gosling, who is more than up to the task.
The angular, slightly wary Gosling could turn into this generation’s James Stewart. He has the awkward charm and grace of the old Hollywood legend. And like Stewart, he can move from being surprisingly emotional to cool and abrupt within seconds while not sacrificing his character’s believability.
Here, Gosling plays Stephen Myers, the second-in-command to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Paul Zara. They’re the brain trust, working behind the scenes for ultra-liberal candidate Governor Mike Morris, played with his usual mixture of glibness, charisma and calculation by Clooney. There’s a moment early on when Clooney is squaring off against his major adversary, Senator Pullman and we’re far more interested in the rivals duking it out behind the curtains: Hoffman for Morris and the irrepressible Paul Giamatti, casting his shrewd spells for Pullman.
Myers is the fair-haired boy, the idealist who plays off Hoffman’s pragmatist; the combination of the two is clearly sparking Morris’ campaign. Even more fascinating to watch is the unspoken attraction between Clooney and Gosling–they realize that each is bringing out the best in the other.
While the true romance in the film might be between Gosling and Clooney, there’s a complicated heterosexual one as well. This wouldn’t be an American political movie without an enticing woman. Here it’s the bright young intern Molly Stearns, played by Evan Rachel Wood, who gets to be the surrogate for the attraction that the men feel for each other. Wood is forced into being a pawn in the game—the “machina” whose “deus” abandons her.
Ides of March is structured like a cat and mouse game, which is fully in keeping with the genre. The problem is that the film isn’t as clever as it should be: the dialogue should be richer and the story, more precise. A tragedy occurs and there’s a loss of innocence and an ironic denouement. Such is the stuff of political thrillers. But the magic isn’t quite there despite the dream cast. Perhaps the “Ides” should have been in November after all.