Monday, March 19, 2012

Movie Monday: The Ides of March

This week's movie is the 2011 political drama/thriller The Ides of March!

I'm an unabashed fan of George Clooney; I think the guy does great work (post-Batman & Robin, of course) and while I don't think all of his films are director are successful, they've all been interesting and different from one another that a Clooney-directed political thriller was on top of my rental list:
Pre-credits, the film opens with whiz-kid political consultant Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling--what, him again?) doing some prep work at political debate. The stage is quiet and dark, and Meyers assumes the role of candidate, saying some of the things we'll hear come out of someone else's mouth later on.
The film's basic story is set up rather gracefully; over a long shot of TV talking heads, newspaper clippings, and other magazine covers, we learn that liberal Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is in a dead heat against another Democrat in a primary fight for Ohio. The polls say things are neck-and-neck, and we hear real-life news commentators like Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews talk about the race:
We meet the various members of Morris' staff, like his rumpled right hand man, Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, born to play parts like this), and a comely campaign volunteer named Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), who we see clearly has a thing for Meyers:
Zara and Meyers parry with their rival campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), and they're both after the endorsement of a Blue Dog Democrat named Thompson (Jeffrey Wright). At one point, Duffy calls Meyers and asks him to meet in secret. That is considered verboten in situations like this, but Duffy is persuasive and Meyers agrees.

Duffy asks Meyers to quit Morris' campaign and come work for them. Meyers is flabbergasted, and says he works for Morris because he believes in his platform. Their meeting ends with Meyers taking in Duffy's dire warning that Morris can't win.

It only takes a few hours, but news of the meeting gets leaked to the press (represented by a NYT reporter played by Marisa Tomei, looking tired and unglamorous), and Meyers has to fess up to his boss what he did:
Zara is aghast, accuses Meyers of being disloyal, the single worst trait in situations like this.

Meanwhile, Meyers and Molly take their relationship further, they spend the night together with a shaky promise from Meyers that this wasn't just a one-night stand. Later on, they sleep together again, and Meyers discovers something shocking about her that shakes his entire view of Gov. Morris.

After some more dramatic developments, Meyers, feeling hurt and betrayed, arranges a private meeting with Morris. To this point, The Ides of March was less a thriller than a high-wire drama, but Clooney shoots the face-off between Meyers and Morris like something really, really bad is about to happen:
Unfortunately, it's here that The Ides of March really goes off the rails. Gosling's character goes so rogue that it seems unbelievable that the other characters in the movie go along with him; to me what had been a well-acted, well-staged political thriller just becomes ridiculous. The characters take such huge risks that, while I'm sure they could really happen (see: Game Change), it just feels wildly implausible. Also, after a certain point we're left with no characters to root for--wow, so everyone we're watching is loathsome? Politicians and their handlers can be loathsome? Stop the presses!

The movie ends fairly abruptly, again on Meyers' face, this time all the humanity has been stripped away. Meyers is successful, but at what cost?

As I said above, The Ides of March is 2/3rds a good movie. The performances are all solid (to be expected, when you've got people like Clooney, Hoffman, Giamatti, and Wright in it), and Clooney does a solid job as director, keeping the story moving briskly while never losing his eye for character detail.

But when the mechanics of the thriller plot kick in, everyone starts behaving in ways so preposterous that I just sort of rolled my eyes that all this good stuff had been chucked away for the sake a juicy twist. At the final third, The Ides of March is barely less contrived than one of those straight-to-DVD thrillers that used to fill video store shelves. Which is too bad; there's so much talent here that it feels like a giant wasted opportunity.

Hey, I just realized, two Ryan Gosling movies in a row? We'll tackle something totally different next week, I promise!

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