07 October 2011

The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling is shown in a scene from "The Ides of March."
"The Ides of March" is a political thriller that concerns itself more with issues of loyalty and trust than advancing a particular agenda. That's a surprise considering the presence of George Clooney, known for being a liberal political activist, as director, producer, co-screenwriter and co-star.

With this movie, which is based on a play by Beau Willimon (who also shares the screenplay credit with Clooney and Grant Heslov), Clooney keeps his politics mostly in check, shying away from making any grand, new statements. The thought he leaves us with is politics is a dirty game, which you probably know even if you have never watched a minute of CNN or Fox News.

Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is a hotshot press secretary for the presidential campaign of Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney). It is the eve of the Ohio Democratic primary, though winning the support of an influential North Carolina senator (Jeffrey Wright) virtually will ensure the nomination for Morris. That support, however, will not come without a price—a price the rival candidate appears willing to pay.

More complications: Stephen takes a meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the opponent's campaign manager, who implores him to jump ship and work for him. Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Morris's campaign manager, is not pleased when Stephen tells him of the meeting, and Stephen is even more nonplussed when a reporter (Marisa Tomei) learns of it as well. Stephen also finds himself entangled with an intern (Evan Rachel Wood) who is the daughter of the DNC chairman (Gregory Itzin).

Clooney keeps himself mostly in the background until a crucial plot point emerges, ceding the spotlight to Gosling.

After rising to fame in a romantic drama ("The Notebook"), Gosling this year has solidified his leading man status with a comedy ("Crazy, Stupid, Love"), action movie ("Drive") and, now, a thriller. His Stephen is an idealist, gushing about how he believes in what Morris stands for and his ability to accomplish what he has promised. But pushed to the edge, he is not afraid to get his hands dirty and will play the game as readily as anyone else. Is it the environment in which he works that turns him or was he fooling himself with his earlier, principled rhetoric?

The scene-stealers are Hoffman and Giamatti, two of our very best character actors. They play their rival campaign managers with a world-weary quality and emerge as sympathetic figures despite the dirty games they play. We know Tom is sincere when he urges Stephen to get out while he can.

I appreciate a filmmaker bold enough to take a stand, but I don't go to the movies to see someone's politics plastered across the screen. A movie that is well crafted and well acted has value for those reasons alone. Such is the case of "The Ides of March."

Greg's Grade: B

(Rated R for pervasive language. 101 minutes.)

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