The Ides of March: Bit of a yawn really.

The Ides of March is a film full of ‘good moments’ and that is about the best you can say of it. It’s an old story / message – one we all know and suspect Clooney of harbouring. That is politics is tired and cynical itself; driven by a lust for the win rather than any sort of ideological authenticity.

We’re all a little past the search for authenticity anyway. In terms of our daily lives, we’re just too busy trying to get everything done to have time for the grander vision. We glean our personal goodness by doing our best at our jobs, trying to stay patient in traffic, not changing the channel when world vision tries to get money for Africa, giving money to flood victims and doing the best by our kids. This film sort of knows that, and it doesn’t try to ‘wow’ us with the knowledge that politicians are flawed.

As far as Clooney’s direction goes, he is being compared everywhere with Robert Redford. Goodnight and Goodluck is touted as the Quizshow film and now The Ides of March is the The Candidate. Clooney co-wrote this with Beau Willimon, the writer of the play Farrugut North on which the film is based. Cinematically there is nothing special about the film, but that’s not really Clooney’s forte. We all have this feeling he wants to make the great American political film. One presumes this is another along the journey to that place, and not the arrival itself.

One of my favourite moments is at the start when Steven Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is running through a speech that his client Gov. Mike Morris (George Clooney) will make at a podium the next day. The speech is rousing and obviously written by Meyers. Meyers is at the venue to ensure everything is set up so that the ‘debate’ (where the speech has been planted) will be delivered smoothly and to his clients benefit. While checking the sound Meyers delivers key moments of the speech in a lacklustre dulled voice. The speech is then delivered as part of the ‘debate’ the next day, with all the grandeur we have come to expect from politics – we hear it played back to us, the ‘audience’ and the ‘people’.

Speech is used this way throughout the film. First to convince us of Meyers belief in the politics of his client, secondly to reveal the double standards of Morris himself. I did enjoy this about the film. Meyers is a speech writer, and it is through the speeches that we get the sense of the cynicism Meyers eventually embraces.

But I have a question. Meyers makes a small speech to Ida (!) at one point where he claims he has worked on more campaigns than most people have by the time they’re forty. This (one presumes) is why he is so hot and so young. My question is, why on earth has he only worked this out now? With so much experience, why hasn’t he seen the failings in  leader prior to this moment?  And if that is because of his ‘belief’ in the ‘ultimate candidate’ who (presumably) he hadn’t met prior to meeting Morris, why isn’t he so disillusioned with politics that he leaves when he realises who Morris is? This for me is a major characterisation problem. Anyone with that level of passion for the messianic arrival is going to be hit very hard when they are confronted with the fall from grace Morris performs in front of Meyers.

God – what is there to say about this film?  the truth is I was bored. Its tired and predictable. It’s classic George Clooney – very beautiful on the outside, but you can’t help suspecting there aint much going on underneath. George Clooney knows how to pick great actors and he knows how to ‘appear’ to be heading up a great film. Here he has Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti playing rival campaign managers. Both the actors are as brilliant as we have come to expect, but they have little to work with. I found their schemes to out do each other small-time in scope and I found that difficult to accept when one considers what’s at stake. Maybe that’s true?  It certainly wouldn’t surprise me, if we got close to the source of politics and found even the double dealings and the out-thinkings were banal and tired. It would certainly explain a lot.

Ryan Gosling is… good. I didn’t get more than that out of him. He seems to take a back seat to the two great actors (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giametti) duking it out around him, and is happy to do so. I saw him in Drive a few weeks ago and came away from that film very impressed with him. I didn’t get that feeling this time. He was competent and he certainly didn’t do anything wrong, he just…. (yawn).

Marissa Tomei plays a New York times reporter called Ida. I found this so silly I could barely concentrate on anything she said. She’s fine, does a reasonable job (I still think she has Judy Davis’ academy award on her shelf – sorry. I can’t get over that) and Evan Rachael Wood is competent. She’s the intern the Democratic candidate is ‘doing’. Sound familiar? yes – I’m afraid the writing is that bad.

In a week where I watched three Truffaut films, and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, all I can say is this is a slick Hollywood production that is entirely forgettable despite the brilliance of the actors.

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