Friday, 24 February 2012

Film Review: The Ides Of March

It seems somewhat felicitous that there be a film about the race to find America's next presidential candidate, although following the current Republican primaries one might certainly be able to mash all the footage into a political drama. Scratch that, satire. But what if Hollywood could elect the next Commander and Chief? No doubt the forerunner would be that genial, pulchritudinous man named George Clooney. If Mr. Obama were found to be slacking in his presidential duties, then perhaps the director, co-writter, star and appointed liberal ambassador for Hollywood might make a fitting replacement.

Stephen Myers (Gosling) is a campaign manager with ethical boundaries. A man who believes that the system will ultimately allow only those with the most sincerest convictions to become President of the United States. As such he carries out his work on behalf Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), a charismatic Democrat vying for the White House, with utmost conviction. But when revelations involving campaign volunteer Molly (Wood) surface, coupled with the increasing skullduggery of rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Giamatti), Myers is soon embroiled in a political dilemma which will test his moral fibre.

The Ides Of March of course refers to that famed Shakespearean play where Julius Caesar's imperial ambitions were succinctly snuffed out by a gaggle of conspirators, and it is a familiar story here. First, this is a reasonably sophisticated, solicitous, well-crafted political thriller with a cast of heavy-hitters which impressively pull everything together. Yet while the political intrigue created throughout the film is certainly clever, like any political drama it features the predictable tropes we have come to expect of the genre. That is to say ambitious with allusions of intellectual grandeur, yet ironically broadly similar in its themes of political backstabbing and shady characters.

Speaking of characters, Gosling's Myers is a strange one - kind of like an enigmatic plankton inhabiting a world of political sharks. While portrayed as a sagacious spin-doctor who knows the tricks of the trade and how to work the media, he still remains curiously naive to the dirty realities he faces everyday. What's even more incredulous is how it takes a typical human flaw in Morris' character to set off an over-the-top chain reaction involving feelings of personal betrayal. Most flabbergasting of all the revelations to Myers however is that, shock horror, politics is not all unicorns and rainbows. Given all the perfidious political manoeuvres witnessed up until this point, you begin to wonder how this supposedly politically savvy wonder kid has made it this far and indeed, if he's even mentally stable.

In essence The Ides Of March is a Faustian tale in the same ilk as The Ghost Writer, Wag The Dog or In The Loop. While a popular concept these days given people's disillusion with politics, this is still very much a well executed film. It is a smart (enough), slick, efficacious effort with some fine acting which makes this more than worth watching. However, while the cast is excellent, the substance is as deceitful as an MP's expenses claim. Just don't be surprised that despite the glitz and soundbites, it doesn't make good on all its election promises.