George Clooney has returned to the political genre in his latest directorial feature, The Ides of March, for which he also co-wrote the screenplay. Predictably, the acting and the action is as smooth and slick as the man himself, but intriguingly it is not Clooney who takes centre stage.
Although Clooney plays charismatic Governor Mike Morris – a man who looks like he is going to bring integrity and hope to the Democratic presidential candidate race – it is Morris’ aide and up-and-coming Junior Campaign Manager, Steven Meyers (Ryan Gosling), who is in the spotlight.
Gosling plays the confident, PR whizz, whose poise is matched by his sense of purpose and belief that Morris is really the right man to take the Democratic party forward and hopefully run the country. Morris is the underdog in the race – up against the more formal Senator Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell) – but his youthful aide is feeding him the magical lines and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by his rival – or more specifically Pullman’s Campaign Manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti).
Giamatti is electric as the vivacious Duffy, so too his opposite number (and fellow serial scene-stealer) Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing Stephen’s boss and mentor, Paul Zara. Zara is the brash but loyal crusader to Duffy’s win-by-any-means dirty trickster. And loyalty (or the lack of it) in the political arena is the overriding theme of this film, where loyalty and morality should be the foundation stones of society.
However, with such power and prestige involved in the American political system, personal ambition and ego muddy the waters and the make-up of a man in the pressure-cooker environment and the man becomes easily corruptible, despite every word uttered by the party figureheads being aimed at convincing the public of their incorruptibility and their unflinching moral vision for the greater good.
Amidst the enviable cast at Clooney’s disposal, is man-of-the-moment Ryan Gosling, who produces another captivating performance to follow up his impressive, ice-cold turn in the stunning Drive. In Drive, Gosling plays a quiet loner, whose inner darkness rears its head when provoked by a dangerous predicament and in The Ides of March – although the charming Stephen Meyers is anything but quiet – he too finds his dark side emerging when his lofty position suddenly heads south and Gosling is yet again pitch-perfect in depicting a man on the brink.
Stephen’s problems arise when he becomes romantically involved with an intern, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) – who is the daughter of a senior Democratic figure, Jack Stearns (Gregory Itzin) – and also when he takes the ill-advised decision to meet competitor Duffy in a bar to chat; a meeting cheekily instigated by Duffy.
Things rapidly get complicated, especially with the influence of an aggressively ambitious New York Times journalist called Ida (Marisa Tomei) and Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) – who is being used as a pawn to sway votes – and the competitors must think fast if they are to have a future at the top of the political pile. Throw into the mix a sudden, high-profile fatality and you have a big melting-pot of intrigue.
The knives are out for Meyers and as things intensify, he desperately tries to save his career and this means he must finally play the political game with the gloves off. Often in the game of Hollywood-portrayed politics, if you dig deep enough, you can find something to bring down even the squeakiest of the clean. By the end of the film, not many of the players are left untarnished.
The depiction of American presidential campaigning in the Ides of March may be embellished for the viewer’s pleasure, but this is a thrilling and convincing piece of drama that leaves you wondering by what degree.
The Ides of March (15)
Directed by George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell.
Running time: 101 minutes
The Ides of March is showing at the Rio Cinema in Dalston until Thursday 10 November 2011./ 8 November, 2011