Review: The Ides of March (2011)

As a political thriller, it’s somehow both lean and languid  – and while this would be a compliment for almost any other genre, here perhaps it doesn’t always work in the film’s favour.

Stephen (Ryan Gosling) is an idealistic, dynamic young campaign manager for charismatic governor and presidential hopeful Mike Morris (George Clooney, who also directs). And though everyone around Stephen tells him that politics (and politicians) will ultimately disappoint and disillusion him, he refuses to listen – even though we hear and believe them, because that’s what political thrillers are usually about. And this one does all the things you expect it to, and with better players and handling than many – so why does it feel like something’s missing?

The Ides of March is not about politics: it’s a coming-of-age story in a dark, cynical world.

It’s hard to tell if the twists in The Ides Of March are less unpredictable than in other political thrillers because there are fewer distractions. There’s no complex vernacular we’re dropped into and forced to decode; there aren’t innumerable characters or myriad subplots of which to keep track. Scenes play at an easy pace, there’s no overlapping dialogue, and events move in pretty linear sequence. None of these are criticisms – and certainly, there are movies that attempt to over-complicate any or all of these things to diminishing dramatic returns – but as stylistic choices, the result gives The Ides Of March less in common with “political thriller” than with “character study”.

As director, it’s probably fair to assume that George Clooney’s primary interests would be character and performance. As co-writer (with his collaborator on his more stylised work as director, Good Night, and Good Luck co-writer Grant Heslov), his dialogue is less playful or jabby than, say, an Aaron Sorkin script, but also stripped of the fat or potential for scene-chewing that others may resort to in order to inject some drama into proceedings. There is clearly total faith in the cast – and why wouldn’t there be: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, perfectly cast here as rival counterparts, rarely get to play at the understated end of their respective hot-blooded spectrums, and are so compelling even at (their) resting pulse; Ryan Gosling’s trademark stoicism is given the berth to move in degrees, before our eyes, from wide-eyed to steel-eyed. In the end, The Ides of March is not about politics: it’s a coming-of-age story in a dark, cynical world.

A solid entry in our Movies About People Talking festival.