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The Ides of March

July 28, 2016

The Ides of March (2011)
Director: George Clooney
Actors: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman

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Synopsis: Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), Junior Campaign Manager for Senator Mike Morris (George Clooney), unwittingly becomes a pawn in an increasingly fractious race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Review: Watching this film at the same time as the real-life machinations of the Democratic Party Convention is providential, although as tasteful and entertaining as George Clooney’s little potboiler is, it fails to elevate its political tale beyond equally familiar stories from the genre we’ve seen both in television and on film over a number of years – perhaps even decades.

In fact, The Ides of March is good microcosm as a whole for the strengths and weaknesses Clooney brings to cinema in his “behind the camera” guise as producer and director. He always turns out very well intentioned, dramaturgical films: subservient to plot, character, theme and politics – and he’s always able to call on a great cast of actors to populate his stories. That works fine when the constituent elements converge to make a genuinely gripping piece of narrative cinema (à la Good Night and Good Luck), but more often that not, his films can be a touch sedate and style-less, a touch too plodding and didactic. The Ides of March is a classic case in point.

Clooney carries his desire to show the insalubrious underbelly of the workings of the political establishment a little too fervently: almost as if he’s only just got round to watching the political/paranoia masterpieces of the Seventies (such as The Parallax View and All the President’s Men) and he’s earnestly set on replicating those films’ ambience and ethos to his contemporary scenario. Clooney certainly gorges on obvious tableaux and set pieces – one case being where Ryan Gosling’s staffer sarcastically voices political slogans in the opening scene before a pull-back reveals it’s only a sound-check (but is it foreshadowing for genuine disillusionment later in the film?), and then there’s the clichéd, ironic use of an American flag at a convention while two scurrying politicos have a cynical, underhand conversation beneath it.

If anything, the works of Aaron Sorkin and Netflix’s House of Cards have made Clooney’s vision look even more passé (though I do accept The Ides of March predated House of Cards by a year). The dialogue is especially sophomoric in terms of how it imagines staffers talk hardball: “Paul’s my friend”. “Do you want to work for your friend or do you want to work for the President?” If Clooney continues to churn this stuff out for the rest of his career then I won’t complain because it’s usually watchable, classy Hollywood fare, but a little more barb and a little less taste would serve him even better. (July 2016)

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