Title: The Ides of March
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Directed By: George Clooney
Written By: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, from Beau Willimon’s play “Farragut North”
Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle
Screened at: E-Walk, NYC,
Opens: October 7, 2011
In America’s Presidential election of 1824, no candidate had received a majority of electoral votes, thus putting the contest into the House of Representatives. Surprisingly the House elected John Quincy Adams over his rival, Andrew Jackson. It was believed that Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House, convinced Congress to elect Adams, who then made Clay his Secretary of State. Andrew Jackson’s supporters noted that Jackson had won a plurality of popular votes and the greatest number of electoral votes. Without Clay’s support for Adams-which he purportedly gave only because he was promised a cabinet post–Jackson would have been elected. This “arrangement” is known in the history books as a “corrupt bargain.” The year 1824, then, was the last time that corruption entered a Presidential election, which is why America is justly called the leader of the FREE world.
But wait! George Clooney, who, together with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, wrote the screenplay for the new movie “The Ides of March” (based on Willimon’s play “Farragut North”), begs to differ. In fact he so strongly wants to impress on us that politics, even on the Presidential level, is rife with corruption, compromise, breaking of promises, backroom skullduggery, blackmail, extortion, and worst of all the seduction of pretty young interns, that he destroys the innocence of the movie audience with this shocking thriller. (A thriller, though, in only the broad sense, since on March 15th only Julius Caesar was assassinated, leaving this Clooney-directed film with the title only because that would be the date of the Ohio primary election.)
Some of the best lookers in Hollywood star in this vehicle-George Clooney, the ubiquitous Ryan Goslin, the gorgeous Even Rachel Wood-which should bring in an audience of 20-somethings, 40-somethings, and a few who like me majored in Political Science. Folks looking for beauty and charm will have to accept the presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti.
The picture is loaded with contemporary resonance: the aforementioned seduction of an intern, the reality that this has something to do with Howard Dean’s candidacy in 2004 (I’d have voted for Dean), though Dean withdrew for not having the numbers rather than for any bedroom frolic.
The best thing about the film is the steady patter of zingers and commentary that uncover political insight. For example, when Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) on the campaign trail, is asked why we endorse separate bathrooms for men and women while doing likewise for African-Americans and Whites would not be tolerated, his response is quick and to the point. Easily the greatest one-liner in the 100-minute movie, the most prescient one, is the truism that if you’re President “you can bankrupt the country and send the nation into war, but you can’t [expletive] an intern.”
Director Clooney takes us to campaign headquarters in Cincinnati, the hotels, the kitchens and even in one case a park bench that serves as a clandestine meeting place between the governor’s press secretary and a U.S. Senator. He makes short order of a debate between two Democratic contenders, Mike Morris and his opponent, Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell). Governor Morris’s press secretary, Stephen Myers (Ryan Goslin), working directly under the governor’s campaign manager, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is a youthful, 30-year-old striving to become the President’s flack after his man wins the four-year term. He has a tough job convincing Governor Morris to promise Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) a cabinet job as Secretary of State if Thompson would throw his support to Morris because Morris retains some ideals. He thinks little of the senator and refuses to consider an offer that would have sewed up the delegates in Ohio while other states would come out for him like falling dominoes. That’s going to change but here are already some clues that he might go with the suggestion to set up compulsory service for all Americans turning eighteen, whether in the armed forces, the Peace Corps or other, since kids under that age who might resist can’t vote and those older have nothing to lose.
The picture is gloriously filmed by Phedon Papamichael, making good use of extreme close-ups of Ryan Gosling and Evan Rachel Wood, focusing on a disastrous meeting between the press secretary and the opponent’s campaign manager (Paul Giamatti). Marisa Tomei turns up as Ida Horowicz, a New York Times reporter with an extortionate plea of her own, one resisted at least temporarily by Stephen.
If you believe that assassinations of politicians and reporters are required in a political thriller as in Alan J. Pakula’s “The Parallax View,” you may find “The Ides of March” a ho-hum affair. If you enjoy the cerebral battles that are part and parcel of American politics, you will likely go for this effort.
Rated R. 101 minutes. (c) 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+