Friday, February 03, 2012

The Ides of March: Grade C


The Ides of March (2011)

Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Marissa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright. Co-writer and Director George Clooney.

This movie is a huge disappointment, because I am a sucker for political movies. I should have been prepared when I saw that long list of stars, never a good sign. The biggest failure is the poor writing, and after that, the surprisingly poor acting (with a couple of small exceptions).

First the writing. This is supposed to be a story of ideas, political ideas. We are exposed to the inner workings of a presidential campaign. Governor Morris (Clooney) is the Democratic candidate and his two top campaign administrators are Stephen (Gosling) and Paul (Hoffman). Stephen is actually the main character. He is portrayed as a brilliant, successful campaign organizer, totally loyal, who nevertheless has an affair with one of the campaign interns (Wood).

But the real trouble starts when the campaign chief from the rival camp (Giamatti) invites him to come over to the other side. Stephen agrees to a meeting, rejects the offer, and tells Paul, the campaign strategist about it. Paul fires Stephen on the spot for disoloyalty. Stephen is desperate to maintain his political life and finds a dirty, nasty way back into the inner circle, at cost to his innocence and integrity.

The trouble is, none of those moves is convincing. The Stephen character would never have taken that meeting and would not do any of what he does afterward. The intern Wood would never do what she does, or say what she says, given her circumstances. In the dramatic showdown scene, despite a big display of reasoning, the governor fails to reason correctly and miscalculates. And on and on. If the characters don’t make sense, and the story line doesn’t make sense, then what do you have in a movie of ideas? Not much. I get the strong feeling this story was written by a committee. There is no insight to be had and nothing to be learned from it.

Then there is the acting, uniformly deadly. How is that possible from such great stars? It can only be chalked up to poor directing. There are a few sparkles, as when Giamatti gives a heated speech to Gosling in a smoke-filled back room. But that’s his only moment. Tomei is consistently strong, and even though she has a small role, she acts her heart out. Clooney is unbelievably wooden. Rachel Evan Wood? Ow!

About the only positive thing I could say about the movie is that it presents two meta-stories (not in the movie itself). One is disappointment about American politics. It seems to say, all politics is dirty politics, and even if you have a seemingly “ideal” candidate (like Obama), you learn the reality is the same cynical B.S. as always. The second implicit theme is that the news media control the democratic process, because, ultimately, the voters are stupid. Politicians must direct their every thought and action toward media coverage for that reason.

They should have made either of those movies.

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