Director: George Clooney
Runtime: 101 Minutes
In 2005, when George Clooney made his writing debut with Goodnight and Good Luck, he did so to some critical acclaim. And, although not an outstanding picture, for an essentially neophyte film maker it was one that exhibited a studied and atmospheric maturity, dealing in particularly reserved terms with a trenchantly polarising subject matter. Indeed, Clooney’s own rendering of Edward R Murrow’s CBS team investigation into the amoral tactics of Senator McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade was so subdued, unwitting test audiences regarded the archive footage of the senator as being “over the top.” It certainly exhibited infinitely more visual reserve than his directorial debut, the Charlie Kaufaman penned, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
Six years later, and with only the slightly muddled oddity that was sports comedy Leatherheads as an addition to his directorial name, Clooney has returned to the political arena with The Ides of March, based on a successful Broadway play. It is a work saturated with the malaise of the post-Obama election victory, one that has seen- in the eyes of many- fine words and, in all probability, noble ideals eviscerated by the culture and in which they strive to exist. It is cynicism of the very political process itself that fuels Clooney’s modus operandi in The Ides of March and as such devotes its attention, not so much to the politicians, but those who attempt to construct and manage their popularity with voters via the media and internal party supporters.
Clooney plays the democratic presidential hopeful in question- and what a hope he represents- charming, intelligent, witty, concerned yet convicted. It is a character and performance that makes effortless use of the old-star charm that he exudes from every pore. However, Clooney’s Mike Morris is merely an occasion in this film- a signifier. No, the real bulk of dramatic import is provided by improbable sex symbol of the moment, Ryan Gosling, and the consistently outstanding Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Gosling plays the protagonist Steven Meyer, a clever, ambitious and passionately idealistic junior campaign manager. Meyer is the envy of competing media strategists in and outside of his own party, and the moral antithesis of his mentor, Seymour Hoffman’s world weary Paul Zara- Morris’s senior campaign manager. This pair- along with a sultry performance from Evan Rachel Wood as the spoiled intern around whom Meyer’s innocence collapses- strongly benefit from Clooney’s heritage as an actor, as well as a seeming absence of egotism, as he allows their inherent talents, and a tightly crafted narrative structure, to eke out the film’s inherent drama.
The Ides of March is a thriller that intelligently and unambiguously sets out its world view, but for all that, it is no screaming polemical of, for example, a young Oliver Stone. It suggests quite simply that America’s is a political system that does not countenance change- nor any threat to those organisations which sustain it. The price of success, both personally and politically, is one’s ideals.
It is not a revelatory or radical notion, but it is immaculately crafted and never allows the viewer’s attention to flag. Upon the bed-rock of fine performances, studied pacing and something so old fashioned as a finely crafted story, Clooney is building a back-catalogue as a film maker every bit as effortlessly smooth as he exhibited as an actor. One can only hope that there is a lot more to come.