October 17, 2011

MOVIES: The Ides of March (George Clooney, 2011)

Engrossing political drama with a top-notch cast.

Ryan Gosling is the media advisor to a top Democratic presidential candidate (George Clooney), who is presented as a very Obama-esque figure, who is inspiring genuine devotion and excitement in even hardened professionals like Gosling. Gosling reports to campaign manager Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is worried about the upcoming Ohio primary, which Clooney needs to win to sew up the nomination.

The campaign of the principal opponent is managed by Paul Giamatti, who isn't buying Clooney's uplifting message, and wants to steal Gosling away to his side of the race. But politics is a dirty game, and it's not hard to predict that this is going to be the story of Gosling's disillusionment as he realizes that even the best men can't help but be corrupted by politics.

The cast is superb from top to bottom, and Gosling cements his position as one of the best leading men of his generation, completely holding his own against heavy hitters Clooney, Hoffman, and Giamatti, all of whom are in fine form. Evan Rachel Wood is also very good as a campaign intern with high-powered relatives. In smaller roles, Marisa Tomei is a tough-as-nails New York Times reporter, Jeffrey Wright is a third candidate, who knows just how much difference his endorsement will make, and Gregory Itzin makes a very big impact in two small scenes as the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

The screenplay, by Clooney and Grant Heslov, occasionally reveals its stage origins (based on a play by Beau Willimon); you can easily identify the moments where the intermissions would be, as the action pauses for a short musical interlude over a few dramatic silent closeups. But making Clooney's inspiring governor a presence in the story was a good idea (in the play, he's entirely an offstage character), as it gives us a better idea of why Gosling has become so devoted as to lose his political common sense and objectivity.

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