The Ides of March
Directed By: George Clooney
Written By: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willmon, based on the play “Farragut North” by Willmon
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, George Clooney, Evan Rachel Wood, Marissa Tomei, Jeffery Wright, Max Minghella, and Jennifer Ehle.
Director of Photography: Phedon Papmichael, Editor: Stephen Mirrione, Production Designer: Sharon Seymour, Original Music: Alexandre Desplat
Rated: R for the things politicians say off camera
You can tell a lot about the different tone being set by The Ides of March from the play that inspired it, Farragut North, by just examining the titles. The original play, a sparse Mametesque back room politics piece, has a title that refers to the subway stop in Washington DC where all the big lobbyist and consulting firms have their offices on K Street, which is where politicians go to die when they never make it to Capital Hill. But in George Clooney’s take on the material, we instead have a more metaphorical title, one that dates back multiple millennia in politics. We essentially have a fable.
And it is this sort of morality tale that Mr. Clooney, not only playing an Obama-esque politician (one that remained off stage in the play) but also writing and directing, wishes to tell. Mr. Clooney may be one of the biggest actors still today, but his craft as a director of cinema has become more refined with each film. He seems to dig into these old genres and stories that cold have easily been made in eras previous, doing little to update them, but make the movies he wants to see. Thus, The Ides of March is an often gorgeously crafted examination of the dirty little schemes that hide under the skin of every politician.
The Ides of March goes through a lot of different twists and fates, and the film becomes genuinely dark and disgusting as the characters begin scraping at the bottom of their souls in hope of self-preservation. By adding Morris as a character, Mr. Clooney (who co-wrote the script with Good Night and Good Luck co-writer Grant Heslov and original playwright Beau Willmon), the film is able to contrast the irony by letting us see the promise of real change to the dark cold reality of what these men really think. It also doesn’t hurt that Mr. Gosling, much more naturalistic and emotional here than his more methodical work (see: Blue Valentine, Drive) can be most charismatic and totally endearing while later cold and lifeless, fraught with revenge. Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Giamatti also make the most of their pitch-perfect blood-sucking roles, and perfect these type of ugly men roles (Jeffery Wright, who makes a small appearance as the governor of Ohio, makes the most of his small dirty role as well).
But what makes The Ides of March so appealing is how effective Mr. Clooney has become as a director into sucking you into his dark dirty world. Mr. Clooney has often been around politics, and you can tell how he understands the world by the sharp colors that form his world that eventually tares through the film by adding more shadow (with no doubt help from director of photography Phedom Papamichael). The Ides of March may be a simple morality tale, but Mr. Clooney knows how to treat his material with the type of respect and honesty it deserves, using the inner workings of faces at every moment.
If The Ides of March does reach into melodrama and slight implausibility in its final third act (a twist not in the original play), it is because Mr. Clooney is more interested in the moral fable that he wants to bring to the table. Politics is a dirty game no matter the player, Mr. Clooney suggests. It may not be the most original message, but it’s one worth repeating as every generation searches for its next great leader.