Monday, 16 January 2012

The Ides of March (2011)

Big names and a trailer suggesting intruiging content made this a must see for me, but would it live up to expectation? Not quite. Here's why.

Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), portrayed as an idealistic Democratic candidate for President, is the principled politician--but here lies the first of my problems with the film--Atheism is used as a selling point on his way to the White House, so far removed from reality I believe I audibly scoffed during the screening. 
The political landscape, in a word, is incredible. I did appreciate the various ‘shout-outs’ to real life political idiosyncrasies: Morris’ campaign slogan ‘I Like Mike’ and the Obama-reminiscent campaign posters, but found the 'humour' which the filmmakers tried to achieve here to be laboured and almost overplayed.

Our protagonist is Morris' campaign manager, a 30 year old Steven Meyers (Gosling) and, unfortunately, Gosling delivers a thoroughly mediocre performance. The maturity required to portray the campaign manager confronted with the themes of loyalty, idealism vs pragmatism, and vulnerability of women in the 'industry' of American politics are lost to the vacuous expression Gosling seems to carry throughout the film, so much so that I had a constant expectation that his next line might be “Whoa, dude, like, chill out.” This deficiency could not be saved by clever cinematography, either: one rainy scene in which Steven, after an emotional experience, sits in his car to contemplate his future, is shot is taken from outside with the car’s windshield in focus. Because of the rain, the droplets trickling down the windshield seem representative of tears. It is a clever trope and cleverly employed to get the emotion out of the scene which, unfortunately, Gosling's acting could not. Similarly the use or perhaps overuse of chiaroscuro I suspect may have been a late edition as the Director (Clooney) perhaps realised he couldn’t get the necessary dramatic gravity out of his lead.

My only other problem with the film is that we’re given a setting of an important primary election, and Morris needs the endorsement of a state senator to take the state. My problem is that the endorsement (or lack thereof) is given as the climactic event when I wanted and I imagine many other cinema goers wanted the actual vote. I am left feeling the plot isn’t played out to it’s rightful conclusion. This may not have been a problem in the stage play upon which the film is based, but the importance of the endorsement I do not feel is not driven home sufficiently, leaving the end anticlimactic.

It's an artful and sympathetic adaptation from the Beau Willimon play ‘Farragut North’ (the working title of the film, until it was changed to ‘The Ides of March’; nonsensical considering the plot bears little to no similarity to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and there’s nothing in-universe significant about March 15th). Good performances from Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, however, make the film a worthwhile adventure.

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