Who Do You Trust?
George Clooney for President? If his persona as Governor Mike Morris in the first half The Ides of March is anything to go by - an excellent orator blessed with natural charisma and a dedicated and talented campaign team, it's no surprise to find people throwing their weight behind him. But this is not the one man one vote system we have here, but the US democracy system involving electoral divisions, which may baffle some of us not familiar with it, but even if so, this film will not alienate you, but draw you into its proceedings about how the greed of man influences one's desperate cling for self-preservation, and pride.
It's pacey and punchy, and is what everything about what a political thriller does best, in making it easy to identify with its broad themes for the man on the street involving morals, principles, integrity, trust and power, having likely tradeoffs between characters all trying to gain the upper hand, because the pot of gold at the end of this dark tunneling journey is the Oval Office of the White House, where the person you back, if you're right, takes on the hot seat as Commander in Chief, your job is more or less secured for at least four years, with an option for another four.
It's very pronounced in today's context with the American elections due another 48 months, and this serves as a sneak peek set in the context of a crucial party nomination run off centered about the decider in the state of Ohio, where Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) is being wooed by opposing nominees Morris (Clooney) and Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell) for the Democratic nomination. Running their respective campaigns are seasoned veterans Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) in opposing camps, with Ryan Gosling as Stephen Meyers, a young, promising media savvy hotshot supporting Morris because of belief in the message and values the latter demonstrates, and is seen as a tremendous asset by both sides of the camp.
So begins the cajoling for news, quotes, insights from opponents each trying to feel and strategize against the other, and from not-so-innocent bystanders like the press (Marisa Tomei) eager for scoops as the campaign heats up, feeding on information and leaks with threats that can make or break anyone in print. Information is currency, and knowledge is power in this game, and we're thrown into the thick of the action from the onset, primarily charting how events unfold and Meyers' wheeling and dealings, cajoling, half-deals under the table and behind the scenes, all starting from a single phone call for a meeting from Duffy to call upon Meyers which translates to a flatter, that catalyzes into a measured, political chess game.
It's about Meyers' pride that will lead to a seduction, turning one against his own beliefs and value system, allowing us to witness how easy it is for anyone to blackmail or be blackmailed, about who's playing who, and how everything isn't as simple as it seems in the race for power. The last film I've seen that involves political campaigning was in Definitely, Maybe, a romantic comedy, but The Ides of March is more State of Play in its intensity and gripping narrative, based upon the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, that made this film truly stand out under Clooney's astute direction. If you're dreading a film with plenty of dialogue, trust me in this film the lines are like honey as you marvel at brilliant conversations laced with plenty of in-betweens.
I am not that big a fan of Ryan Gosling, but his powerhouse performance here has changed my mind. While Clooney may be the biggest name on the marquee, this is clearly a Gosling vintage performance as the ambitious young man who thinks the world of himself, until as the Chinese saying goes, the old ginger is always hotter, meaning his lack of experience and savviness in some areas exposes his shortcomings, but as already recognized by his more veteran peers, his character of Meyers possesses the undercurrents and potential of becoming a major player and game changer, it's only a matter of time before he wises up. Gosling portrays this transformation with tremendous intensity, swinging from one end of the inexperienced campaigner who got blindsided, sacrificed, and caught offguard, to making the best of the situation with cold, calculated moves of his own. This is the movie, and Gosling made it his own.
But that's not to discount what his co-stars have brought to the table. Flanked by powerhouses in Philip Seymour Hoffman as his mentor of sorts (in a relationship that bears all the hallmarks of Star Wars' Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker somehow), and Paul Giamatti as the equivalent on the opposite camp, Marisa Tomei also held her own in her bit role as the New York Times reporter more like a double agent, making deals with either side to further her career, and Evan Rachel Wood balances the testosterone levels to star as, well, yet another seductive temptress, a young intern working at Morris' camp who holds a very crucial secret that can make and break the nominees.
With beautiful cinematography and an excellent soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat, I enjoy it best when Clooney goes behind the camera for politically charged dramas, and besides the blip in Leatherheads, perhaps this genre is indeed his forte as he charms his way on screen, while creating something sleek and sexy behind the scenes. Definitely a must-watch political thriller, and one of the top, top films of the year!