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The Year's Best Cast In A Well Made Film That Fails To Break Any New Ground In The Political Drama Genre
on December 7, 2011
There's nothing that I enjoy more than an adult political thriller with its smarts, scandal and cynicism front and center. Therefore, I was over-the-moon in anticipation for George Clooney's "The Ides of March." Director Clooney has assembled one of the year's most impressive casts including Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, and Clooney himself. It's a dream team and every performance is exemplary. And yet, despite the heavy hitters at the top of their game, the actual story behind "The Ides of March" is pretty familiar and, frankly, a tad underwhelming. I certainly wanted to and expected to like this movie, even love it, but it simply offers little new to the well-worn genre of political drama. Adapted from the 2008 play "Farragut North" by Beau Willimon, the narrative revolves around a Democratic primary with the standard amount of political hubris and idealistic disillusionment. It's really a very tight story highlighting the arc of Gosling's character and while the limited scope might have made for a focused play, it seems all so less-than-shocking (even typical or expected) on the big screen.
Gosling plays a principled staffer working for Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) as he fights to attain his party's nomination in the Democratic primary. Taking place almost exclusively on the campaign trail, we see that Gosling's idealism, savvy, and energetic commitment have made him invaluable to the presidential candidate. He works alongside Hoffman (in another characteristically great performance), spars with Giamatti from the rival candidate's camp, flirts with Wood as a beautiful young intern, is cagey with Tomei as an ambitious reporter, and trades nuggets of wisdom with the great man Clooney. Over the course of the primary, however, Gosling will come to confront the truth inherent in our political system and in humanity. If you place someone on a pedestal, they are surely in for a fall. But Gosling must grow up quick, open his eyes, and determine if he will be defeated by his disillusionment or become complicit in the complexities of the political machine.
In a year in which Ryan Gosling could do no wrong from romantic comedy (Crazy, Stupid, Love) to art house actioner (Drive) to this high profile endeavor--it's hard not to commend his versatility. Here, it is easy to see the brash young brilliance of his character, but that just makes his naivete all the more startling. The "shocking" turning point of the film is hardly shocking at all if one watches the news with any regularity, and yet it seems to completely undermine this insanely intelligent and politically astute character. And just as things ramp up for a turn-around, the film ends without a huge degree of payoff. I just feel that we've covered this corruption of innocence angle so many times, nothing felt particularly surprising or revelatory about "The Ides of March." I would still recommend the film, especially for the performances, but it lacks the groundbreaking allure that would define it as a classic. Clooney is terrific and full of easy charm as the candidate, Giamatti gets all the best lines (that must be in all of his contracts), and Hoffman is easily our most steadfast and reliable character actor. I just wish they, along with the great Gosling, had more to say that hadn't been said countless times before. About 3 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 12/11.