Sunday, 30 October 2011

LFF 2011: The Ides of March review

George Clooney’s political thriller boasts a great cast and snappy dialogue. However an under-powered script suggests people are getting carried away with praise, pre Oscar season.

Any fan of The West Wing will tell you that campaign politics are all about backroom deals and handsome strategy wonks ping-ponging dialogue over 20 hour working days. George Clooney’s adaptation of Beau Willimon’s play Faragut North spins the theme into a satisfying politico-thriller that doesn’t quite have the depth its Champions League cast deserves.

Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, a campaign operative on the rise, with a brilliant line on manipulating the media and spinning the polls in favour of his paymaster. In this case, he’s trying to get Democrat hopeful Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) the nomination on a ticket of vaguely Obama-style progressive politics. Also on Team Morris is Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Paul Zara, a more senior spin-meister who has seen it all before. As it’s Hoffman, you watch him quietly sizing people up in his opening scenes and wait for him to explode with invective when his buttons get pressed.

There are no Republicans here, we're all about the Primaries and the Democrat scramble for the nomination. On the competing side of the drama is Paul Giamatti's slightly darker, ever more manipulative huckster, with a candidate of his own and an eye on recruiting the wonderboy Myers.

You can also throw in Marisa Tomei, as a journalist with the inside track and actors of the caliber of Jeffrey Wright and Gregory Itzin (he was the Nixon-style bad president in 24).

The trouble is, with all that talent, and with Clooney's proven eye for the material after Good Night and Good Luck, the story is down-shifted by a sexual peccadillo involving a pretty intern on the campaign (Evan Rachel Wood as seen in Mildred Pierce). The reversals in fortune that drive the movie are mundane and don't leave enough room for some of the depth or fireworks you might expect.

Don't get me wrong, it is still a classy drama with passages to enjoy in it. Clooney himself gives an onscreen performance that is two parts charm and one part menace, when the serious business has to be done. Ryan Gosling makes his character play by hinting at intelligence and steel even when the script doesn't necessarily give him the ammunition to back this up. With three films in the multiplex right now, he seems to have a mystique around him. Whether he plays hit-man, lothario or political grifter, he's giving off some Steve Macqueen, crossed with some Edward Norton - a potent combination.

In the end, The Ides of March pales compared to series six and seven of The West Wing, which cover the same ground in far more depth, so if you haven't seen those episodes you might get more out it. Either way, it is still an engaging thriller with efficient melodrama at its heart.

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