Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: George Clooney (“Good Night, and Good Luck”)
Written by: George Clooney (“Good Night, and Good Luck”), Grant Heslov (“Good Night, and Good Luck”) and Beau Willimon (debut)
Every smile or sentence that comes from a political candidate is calculated. As Matt Damon’s politician character in “The Adjustment Bureau” pointed out, focus groups are employed for even the most mundane details, from determining what the perfect amount of scuff for a pair of dress shoes is to picking a tie that conveys the right message. There is always a crack staff working behind the scenes feeding candidates lines, strategies, and conducting damage control, all to make sure their campaign is unsinkable. In “The Ides of March,” Ryan Gosling plays a skilled, idealistic young staffer who enters the world of politics as a true believer, but finds out very quickly that winning an election requires more than just having a candidate you believe in.
Adapted from the play “Farragut North,” which draws inspiration from Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, “The Ides of March” follows the primary campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) as he seeks the nomination of the Democratic Party. The Morris campaign is managed by Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), but the real brain of the team is Stephen Myers (brilliantly played by Gosling), a smart and emerging political mind on the campaign trail. When the manager (Paul Giamatti) of the opposing candidate approaches Stephen to try and poach him from the Morris campaign, the news is somehow leaked to the press and an aggressive reporter (Marisa Tomei) won’t stop until she gets the answers she wants. As this story begins to unfold, Stephen uncovers an even bigger scandal that threatens his job, exposes him to blackmail and extortion, and leaves him at the center of a moral and professional dilemma.
The cast of Oscar winners and nominees that director George Clooney has assembled is the strongest pillar of the film. Gosling gives one of the strongest performances of his critically-acclaimed career as a charismatic and ambitious man with everything to lose. Gosling has a particular knack for conveying disbelief and intensity with wide-eyed stares. Hoffman gives the strongest of the supporting roles. His scenes with Gosling contain some of the best interaction seen in a film this year. The interplay between these two commanding actors is the most obvious reminder that the film is based on a play, as one can easily imagine these scenes taking place on a Broadway stage. Strong performances from Giamatti, Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood are seen, as well as from Clooney who takes a much smaller role in the film in exchange for his work on the script and behind the camera.
While the story is that of a pretty standard political thriller, “The Ides of March” sets itself apart in its execution. The script is sharp, with plenty of devastating and often hilarious quips. The movie navigates through a potentially redundant concept by maintaining a constant tension and more than enough twists and turns to keep viewers interested. As the stakes become greater and things spiral out of control, it is fascinating to watch Gosling’s character struggle between what is right and what the implications are for his career.
It might be a tad cliché for a film to depict politics as a dirty profession that can cause even the most ambitious and hardworking individual to become jaded, but the narrative works and feels like an accurate depiction of how a campaign would control a scandal. With brilliant acting from its stellar cast, “The Ides of March” separates itself from an often-unimaginative genre with powerhouse performances and authentic details.