The Ides of March (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
22Oct/110

The Ides of March (2011)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

A political thriller requires thrills. It requires emotion, ideals, debate. The Ides of March has none of this, and instead wallows in the laziest cliches one might muster, creating a 'political thriller' that feels like the Ancient Greek dramatists would have tabled it for being too obvious.

Ryan Gosling plays a naive (very naive) political strategist working for a presidential campaign working its way through some grueling primaries. He works under a liberal wet dream candidate played by Clooney (who also directed) and with his friend and mentor played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Then there's Paul Giamatti as a rival strategist, Marissa Tomei as an intrepid reporter, and Evan Rachel Wood as a coy intern who, hey, may have something going on that's a bit shady.

It's a great cast, filled with interesting people who can glower like mad. What's required of them, however, is barely that; rather than an ensemble piece, we're treated to a Faustian tale for Gosling's so-stupid-it's-hard-to-believe-he's-real strategist whose bargains chip away at his soul.

"I value loyalty above all else. And, of course, shoes at an affordable price."

First it's one meeting with a rival, next it's an illicit romance, and before long, each iota of idealism is tossed on an altar and bathed in blood with a grim revery. The descent is quick and Gosling has slipped from Pollyanna to Leon the Professional.

Gosling's transformation rings false, which is deadly since it's the central tenet of the film. The first reel he casually brushes off the accusations that he's wide eyed and optimistic, and by the last act he's swept under the rug one of the greatest conspiracies known to modern politics, lost someone he cared about, and found his ideals shattered. The only result of these events is that he's earned a steely eyed glare and some ominous background music.

Things keep happening to this character, never from this character. Gosling's glassy exterior and tough guy persona isn't susceptible to a necessary and complicated emotional strata. He's inert and miscast.

"I'm the liberal wet dream. A vote for me is a vote for a good pair of shoes."

I'd be tempted to say the same about the rest of the group; they're better than this material. They get moments of dramatic necessity, and Clooney, admirably, really allows himself to be put through the ringer, creating a character whose surface level is impressive but contains stratas of despicable hypocrisy, like, say, pretty much any other politician you could name.

Giammati and Hoffman fare better, though they don't have much heavy lifting to do. I was really hoping for a large scene between the two men, but the movie keeps them in their own separate boxes, which is unbelievably frustrating when you have two of the best actors in modern cinema standing feet away from each other. And Marissa Tomei is cunning and sweet in equal measure, which makes her part of the hat trick of characters who needed to be more front and center.

Ides of March takes its cues the last two Democratic presidents and combines them into one sordid story. Take the promise of Obama and the scandal of Clinton, and you have this story, beat by beat. It's just as disheartening to watch on the big screen as it has been in real life.

"I report things. And wear some damn fine shoes."

The deeper you plow into the story, and the more rote it becomes. Disillusionment is such a plentiful commodity these days that centering a movie on it feels unbearably sad. As a historical relic of the disfranchisement of liberals after Obama's first term, it's great. Maybe in twenty or thirty years it'll be something to point at and take seriously and dissect. Right now, it's too on the nose for any such consideration, and reveals nothing about the world that isn't in every morning's paper.

Posted by Danny

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