As far as political thrillers go, George Clooney's The Ides of March is one of the better ones, but it is not of the great ones. Unlike others of its ilk, The Manchurian Candidate, All the President's Men, The Candidate, twenty, thirty years from now, this film will mostly be forgotten. This is not to say there are not some pretty interesting things happening here - from the surprisingly noir-esque use of light and shadow, to Alexandre Desplat's moody, almost Bernard Herrmann-like score, to the performances of pretty much everyone involved (Philip Seymour Hoffman is more than on his game here, and Clooney himself gives a particularly nuanced performance - but more on all that later), to the jaded, quite acerbic slant on the political arena (and neither side of that particular spectrum gets a free ride here) that hovers somewhere between deep-seated love for the system and outright outrage for everyone involved. But even with all of this percolating inside Clooney's film, it still ends up as a very predictable, and rather pedestrian look at what goes on in a presidential race.
But then, more than a visual work of cinema, this is a performance piece. As is the case in many an actor-turned director film, the performance is the be all and end all of the product - and in that respect, The Ides of March is certainly a winning ticket. The film's star, Ryan Gosling, one of the finest actors of his generation (a thing I can say with no qualms about it sounding cliché whatsoever), hands in yet another bravura performance - a thing we are getting so used to seeing lately that it seems almost as if it is now just to be expected, no big thing. No big thing or not though, Gosling is dead-eyed perfect in this film - and that's no lie. Also quite good are rival campaign managers Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti - a pair of acting lions (who have just one scene together actually) who both add moments of quiet intensty to the film. Hoffman's speech about loyalty, which comes about two-thirds of the way through, is the stuff Oscar clips are made of. Perhaps it is a bit cheap to toss in Oscar talk in the middle of a film review, but why else was a film like this, though well acted, made if not to win Oscars.
Speaking of Oscar bait, director and co-star George Clooney, as Democratic presidential candidate Mike Morris (generic American name if ever we heard one), is the shining idol of this piece. Giving the most subtle of performances (at once a charismatic leading man and a steely-eyed politician) that turns out to be a little masterpiece of acting, Clooney made sure to make his charming and good-hearted, but flawed character a Democrat, so as not to be accused of political baiting - though I am sure most on the right will nay say anyway. An awards contender before the film was even released, this steady and sometimes fierce (yeah, love it or hate it, this is what politics is, on both sides of the cage match) but quite typical and expected (just look at the title to know how things are going to conclude) political vehicle is, if nothing else, a stage for some very good performers to do what they do best (Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood get to play to, but in rather thankless roles) - and do it they do. [10/17/11]