5-Word 365 #143 – The Ides Of March

It has been uncommonly hard to write yesterday’s and today’s columns as I am still hung up on Ink. We’re not even halfway through the year yet, but I know for a fact that movie will be in the top of the charts if I were to be crazy enough to rank all these. But anyway, Ink was Sunday and it’s time to move on. Here’s a sweet little indie heart-warmer for you…

The Ides Of March

A long way from Disney.

Stephen Meyers is the deputy campaign manager for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris during the primaries for the Presidential election. Initially idealistic and considered “the greatest media mind in the DNC”, he turns to cynicism as he discovers the people around him aren’t as selfless as he first thought. Can he get his candidate to the White House and keep his soul intact?

I came to this film expecting great things. The combination of George Clooney both behind and in front of the camera, with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei backing up Ryan Gosling as Stephen, well blow me if that doesn’t have “prestige Oscar-bait” written all over it. And while it is a sharp, intelligent film full of restrained but powerful performances, there is something missing at its core: heart. Based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon – inspired by his time as a part of Howard Dean’s ill-fated 2004 Presidential run – the thesis posited here is that politics is rotten; populated solely by the self-serving, the manipulative and the deceitful.

Though it bears a superficial resemblance to Aaron Sorkin’s thrilling third season of The West Wing in its tale of strategy meetings and campaign buses, The Ides Of March instead goes to the dark side, foregoing any semblance of a likable character in service of its allegory. Never before has a four word tagline been more apt: Ambition Seduces. Power Corrupts. That is what this story is, in the proverbial nutshell. If I’m honest, it’s a thoroughly depressing film but that’s not to say it isn’t a thoroughly well-made one. Clooney started strong as a director and after only four films in the big chair he has claimed his territory as the heir apparent to Eastwood and Redford. Working again with his co-writer and producing partner Grant Heslov*, he has crafted a film that will grip you even as you strain to pick up every word spoken by this parade of some of the most respected actors working today.

“Listen to me, kid. Get yourself an anorak and everyone will respect you. Look what it’s done for me.”

Taking the lead among this cast must have been a daunting prospect for anyone but Baby Goose displays even more of the internalised intensity that he is fast becoming famous for. His expression doesn’t really change much at all, though he conveys everything he needs to with just his eyes. The former mouseketeer shows us Stephen’s moral decline as a good man becoming overcome by his own hubris and latent pettiness. It’s a restrained performance but one that holds the centre of the film while the various angels and devils whisper in his ear. At this point in their careers, it is surely redundant to say how good Hoffman and Giamatti are as the opposing campaign managers but I’m going to say it anyway: they’re really very good indeed. Evan Rachel Wood runs the gamut from flirty and seductive to despairing in her relatively small but pivotal role as a young intern who catches Stephen’s eye, crafting a fully-formed character out of what could have easily been a walking cliché in a lesser actress’ hands. And then there’s George himself, classing up the joint with his occasional appearances as Governor Mike. Based on his campaign trail scenes here, if he announced he was going to run for office he’d probably be elected unopposed. The only disappointment in the cast is Marisa Tomei as New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz, and the disappointment is that she’s not on screen enough.

I hope Shepard Fairey got himself a good deal…

Despite the last couple hundred words of gushing praise there, I still can’t call this an excellent film. I want to, I really really do, but that black, cynical heart just left me a bit cold. Once the story starts to properly unfold it has a crushing inevitability around it that even the characters themselves can sense. With the political landscape in the real world the way it is, we already know how depressing things are. Would having a glimmer of hope or someone we could root for have changed the film’s stated intent? Undoubtedly. Would having those things have made a more enjoyable film? I think so. The question I leave you with is this: what are you in the mood for; truth or entertainment? It seems impossible to have both.

*You remember him, surely. He was Arnie’s young sidekick in True Lies. Yeah, that guy!

12 comments

  1. todayiwatchedamovie · May 23, 2012

    The only thing I liked about this movie is that it made it possible to say my full birthdate using movie titles.

    • Ryan McNeely · May 23, 2012

      Haha! Actually now I think about it, mine too.

      • todayiwatchedamovie · May 23, 2012

        We’re born to watch movies, I guess.

  2. AndyWatchesMovies · May 23, 2012

    I just watched this the other day (review should be up sometime this week) and I really liked it for the most part. Evan Rachel Wood bugs the living shit out of me, so I could have done without her…And you’re right, why cast Marissa Tomei if you’re just going to ugly her up?

    • Ryan McNeely · May 24, 2012

      Wood seems to be one of the most polarising actresses around these days. I can understand the annoyance, but whether she bothers me or not really depends on the role. In this I didn’t mind her so much. True Blood on the other hand…

      • AndyWatchesMovies · May 24, 2012

        Oh god, I tune out completely when she’s on True Blood…

  3. Mark Walker · May 23, 2012

    I have to agree with you here Ryan. This wa one of my most anticipated of film’s but I felt a bit disheartened after it all. Hoffman and Giamatti were outstanding, Gosling was decent and Clooney very underused. Tomei and Wright were even worse off. They didnt get a look in. Overall, it lacked a certain edge.

    • Ryan McNeely · May 24, 2012

      Poor Jeffrey Wright! I did mention him in the review, but I took it out because I felt bad about him only getting three minutes of screentime. In an ideal world, there’ll be a 3-hour cut of this film somewhere that solves all of these problems.

      • Mark Walker · May 24, 2012

        Yeah man, I totally agree. Even though I was disappointed, I could have sat through another hour easily, so it could elaborate further. I found the film started to gain it’s feet just as it drew to a close.

  4. fernandorafael · May 27, 2012

    I agree wholeheartedly with your review. Well, almost all of it. I wasn’t impressed by Gosling in this at all. I felt his performance consisted only of him opening his eyes really wide.

  5. Pingback: 5-Word 365 #214 – Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind | 5-Word Movie Reviews
  6. Pingback: 5-Word 365 #362 – Crazy, Stupid, Love | 5-Word Movie Reviews

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