George Clooney is a white Obama. That’s essentially the plot of “Ides of March,” the new film adapted from Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North. While the stage play, written in 2008, was loosely based on Howard Dean’s Democratic campaign in 2004, it was purposely released around the same time Obama’s primaries began. “Ides” hit the screen as Obama’s re-election campaign and the Republican primaries heated up. The parallels are purposeful.
However, one vital aspect of the plot is that Clooney’s character has some characteristics and experiences in which Obama certainly does not share (at least, that we know of). This makes the story stand on its own and lets it become a broad allegory about corruption, loss of innocence and the ugly side of politics rather than just a critique or praise of a particular person. It works for the most part.
The film is centered around the Democratic Primaries — specifically the campaign of seemingly idealistic presidential candidate Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) — but it focuses most on Morris’ campaign manager, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). Meyers, with his mentor, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), attempts to defeat Morris’ political rival as well as said rival’s slimy campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Eventually, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), an intern that Stephen falls for, ends up holding the keys to dismantling the entire campaign.
Being adapted from a stage play, it’s no surprise the film is a lot of talking heads and static shots. But, due to the massive array of talent on the screen, that’s not much of a problem.
Ryan Gosling gives a commanding, humanizing performance that proves, with this and “Drive,” he is our new go-to leading man. The supporting actors are great as well — not shocking with ringers like Giamatti and Seymour Hoffman in the cast.
The other supporting roles fare just as well, including Woods’ Molly Stearns and a plucky New York Post reporter played by Marisa Tomei.
Finally, George Clooney gives a wonderfully understated performance. He does not overshadow, nor does he hang in the background. Clooney knows exactly the right amount of intensity and humanity his character needs at any given moment.
If there’s anything I would count against the film, it is the revelation toward the middle that seems a bit melodramatic and soap opera-y. Not to say it’s a deal breaker — there is some genuine pathos generated from just how messed up the situation is — but it undercuts the more subdued tone the film was relying on up until then. The actors sell this revelation … I’m just not sure the screenwriters made it easy on them.
Ultimately, I would recommend “Ides of March.” However, I do not know if it is worth seeing in theaters.
It’s a good film, for sure, no matter what criteria you use. It’s well acted, well written (for the most part) and well directed. I feel it’s just not something I, or most people, should go out of their ways to see in its big screen resurrection.
While Clooney knows how to deal with actors, his camera is too static at times and does not feel as “cinematic” as it could. It’s not all bad — in fact, I’d say the framing and Clooney’s general lack of camera movement fits the story well, but that’s just it.
The story isn’t very cinematic. At its heart, “Ides of March” was meant for the stage. It doesn’t seem like it’s escaped that shell quite yet.