George Clooney’s forth time directing a feature film comes in the form of The Ides of March. Named after Julius Caesar’s death in the hands of Longinus and Brutus in 44 B.C, this American political drama delves into the shady and ruthless nature of politics. After his somewhat average Leatherheads back in 2008, Clooney comes back in full force with a superb cast, smart script and slick production values.
The plot follows Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a campaign advisor for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) during the race for the Democratic nominations. Over confidence and ‘inexperience’ begins to show cracks within Meyer’s semblance. His sexual relationship with Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), an intern, suddenly brings his life crashing down to an extent that sees him question his loyalty to Morris and his personal ideals. The Ides of March’s story isn’t a complex one, but neither is it a simple one. While personally not interested in the subject of American Politics, the film never feels too out of reach or inaccessible. Inevitably some of the terminology and political systems isn’t necessarily understandable to a relative novice, but that never became the focus of the narrative. Instead, Clooney concentrates on the behind-the-scenes drama and sly dealings between politicians, campaign advisors and interns. And he does it brilliantly. Twists and turns, paranoia and betrayal all provide a story that constantly engages. There are some minor issues such as the introduction of the romance between Molly and Stephen that, while is pivotal to the plot line, never becomes as effective as intended. As well as Marisa Tomei’s journalist story-thread that fails to materialise during the course of the film. Neither compromise the drama and aren’t related to the acting, but rather the faults in the generally smart script and structure.
In relation to performances, The Ides of March is full of perfectly cast personalities and memorable individuals. Ryan Gosling grows in experience with each film he’s in, and he really puts in strong show here. Arguable too ‘cool’ to be believably involved in a political campaign, his character is constantly conflicted between his job and his personal ambitions and convictions. There’s a ‘two-faced’ nature to him that never becomes over-the-top or too subtle. It’s a well-balanced performance that is delivered with confidence and charm. Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays Paul Zara, Senior Advisor to Morris, does a terrific job too. His calm and collected exterior breaks down in a split second after revelations from Stephen. It’s a powerful ‘transformation’, clearly indicating the stakes and complexities which Gosling’s and his character are engage in. Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti is simply outstanding as a rival campaign advisor. His devious and somewhat uncomfortable grin, really encompass the treacherous nature of the political race with his last scene being the film’s best. George Clooney himself is cleverly not the main character of the film. The likeable and confident image in front of the media, turns to a dark, weathered and almost fragile presence when betrayal and secrets emerge. The weakest individual is Evan Rachel Wood’s. Her character is slightly distorted and this transpires into her performance. She’s underwhelming and seems far too forced to gain the emotional attachment Clooney’s story requires.
Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography is visually pleasing and really encapsulates the moody and sinister events of the film’s narrative. Shadows, while used predictably, add extra atmosphere to tense confrontations, creating a sense of insecurity and covertness. The camera work is great with the prominent use of close-up shots focusing on characters eyes and the framing of faces. There’s a stylistic choice that uses an idea of a ‘pokerface’, as each character’s smooth exterior is symbolised with their stern/ serious countenance, meanwhile glimpses of verity are shown through eye movements, smirks and leers. However the generic styling of modern political dramas becomes all to evident and obvious. There’s a distinct lack of colour, with an almost monochrone look. The persistence use of red, white and blue of the American flag, while realistic in a political campaign, is far to overdone and becomes slightly crude and tiresome, losing it’s justification.
Overall, Clooney’s The Ides of March is engrossing, dramatic and tense. While certain plot elements don’t have the strength and capability to fully establish themselves, the film is still slick and well-written. The generic nature of political dramas still lingers but is over-shadowed by terrific performances and high production values. Expect a few Oscar nominations.