Ryan Gosling Round-Up : “The Ides Of March”

Posted: October 11, 2011 in movies
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If the other Ryan Gosling starring vehicle showing these days is an exercise in uniquely-constructed cinematic hodge-podge that results in a uniquely singular directorial vision, the other, director/co-star George Clooney’s The Ides Of March, is pretty much a straightforward character-driven thriller in the Alan J. Pakula vein (if not nearly as good as Pakula’s top-tier efforts), and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with our guy George’s latest foray into the political underbelly, it’s nowhere near as gripping as, say Michael Clayton or Syriana, even though it’s essentially cut from the same cloth.

To briefly summarize : Gosling stars as young-political-consultant-on-the-rise Stephen Myers, the number-two guy (to Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the presidential campaign of apparent Obama-esque idealist Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). When the canny manager of a rival campaign (Paul Giamatti) asks for, and gets, a meeting with Myers on the eve of the crucial Ohio primary (the movie takes place, and was largely shot in, Clooney’s hometown of Cincinnati) it sows seeds of mistrust within the campaign when said meeting is ratted out (or is it?) by an intrepid political reporter portrayed by Marisa Tomei. But that’s nothing compared to the dynamite personal-life scandal about Morris that Myers uncovers via his lady-love campaign intern ( played by Evan Rachel Wood — as an aside, top-dog political consultants — as well as occasionally the candidates themselves — are for soem reason stupidly, and notoriously, dismissive of the age-old, but still quite wise, adage about not shitting where they eat).

Soon, Myers is sitting on top of a powder keg that could either blow the campaign wide open — or be used as leverage to get him exactly what he wants vis-a-vis his career ambitions. Which will he choose — fulfilling his goals, or saving his soul? Can he somehow do both?

Well, of course not — that would make the whole thing a lot less Shakespearian, wouldn’t it? And The Bard’s influence is never too far from the forefront here, right down to the title itself. That being said, old Bill did it a whole lot better, and while The Ides Of March is a competently-realized enough effort, it never really rises above the “this thing will be on TBS on Saturday afternoon a year from now” feeling that hangs over it from the outset.

One thing it certainly has in common with Drive is that Clooney, like Nicolas Winding Refn, seems to have really found his footing as an actor’s director. The story here is pretty cut-and-dried stuff (and the “scandal” at the heart of the story is nothing today’s jaded electorate will find all that terribly shocking, thus negating some of the movie’s potential effectiveness), and Gosling especially really carries the day, especially at the end, where his choice is clearly made, but never vocalized, yet we leave the theater confident that we just fucking know how he’s gonna play this thing out. But any similarities between the two films certainly end there. The Ides Of March is as pedestrian as Drive  is visionary, and that’s as far as I’ll go with the comparisons between the two since pitting one against the other just because they happen to both feature the same lead actor doesn’t make any sense given that the filmmakers are trying to achieve two completely different things. It has to be said that one achieves its aims a lot more completely than the other, though (whoops, I said the comparisons were over with — so sue me).

Clooney’s love of the political arena is certainly the driving animus behind this flick, but if you’re as bored with the whole horse-race aspect of today’s presidential politics as the average voter/viewer, and not a full-time C-SPAN junkie, then you’re just not as likely as George himself to find this material all that gripping, sorry. Maybe three  years ago this whole movie would have hit home a lot more, but now that we’ve all been sold out to Wall Street and the various captains of industry by the guy who promised us “hope” and “change”(a move less surprising to some of us than others), the idea that a purportedly visionary idealist trying to plant himself into 1600 Pennsylvania avenue isn’t all that he seems just doesn’t seem all that surprising.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the message Clooney is trying to get across here, nor, again, is it at all poorly executed. But the origins of the Oscar buzz around this movie are a serious mystery to me. there’s nothing going on here we haven’t seen done before, and better. I can’t say I actively disliked this film in any way, shape, or form, but it just sort of happens. It’s got drama, tension, and intrigue enough to keep you interested as it rolls along, but there’s nothng about it that will stick especially permanently in your memory afterward.

In short, there’s no need to beware The Ides Of March — but there’s no reason to go out of your way to see it, either.

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