Sony // 2011 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 16th, 2012
Is this man our next President?
"I'm not a Christian. I'm not an Atheist. I'm not Jewish. I'm not Muslim. My religion, what I believe in is called the Constitution of the United States of America."
It's another election season, and two candidates are vying for a Democratic presidential nomination: Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell, Thank You For Smoking) and Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney, Michael Clayton). It's a close race, and both campaigns are headed by old pros: Pullman has the crafty Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man) in his corner, while Morris is backed by the dogged Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Big Lebowski). However, Morris has an additional advantage in the form of Junior Campaign Manager Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine). Stephen is quick, fiercely intelligent, ambitious and idealistic. Every aspiring politician in the country would love to have him, but Stephen is with Morris because he genuinely believes in him. Stephen's current task is to work on securing a win for Morris in the Ohio primary, a tricky task but an achievable one. However, when Stephen foolishly agrees to a private meeting with Duffy and enters a casual sexual relationship with intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood, Mildred Pierce), things start getting complicated.
In some ways, George Clooney's The Ides of March plays like a coming-of-age story for grown-ups. This time, the story isn't about the loss of innocence or the acceptance of maturity, but rather about the loss of idealism and the acceptance of cynicism. It's an appropriately sour portrait of politics in the modern era, a movie that captures the inescapable feeling that significant positive change is outside of our grasp as long as we continue operating within our established political system. It's a movie for the despairing conservative who looks at the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates and shrugs, "What's the difference?" and a movie for the jilted liberal who mourns the fact that President Obama turned out to be just another politician. One of the most common criticisms of the movie I've heard is that it, "tells us things we already know." Of course it does. It's not the job of a movie to provide us with new information; that's what newspapers are for. A movie's job is to provide a satisfying viewing experience, which The Ides of March most assuredly does.
This is Clooney's fourth turn behind the camera, and at this point he has established himself as a reliable, entertaining, thoughtful filmmaker with a penchant for old-school storytelling techniques (though his movies are crisper and have a greater sense of immediacy than the works of other actor/directors like Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner). While Clooney's Leatherheads drew on screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s for inspiration, The Ides of March takes its cue from the political thrillers of the 1970s. This is Clooney in All the President's Men mode, as he whisks us through a efficiently-crafted thriller built on immediately engaging surface-level qualities and sociopolitically conscious bite that lingers with you for quite a while after the credits roll.
The film's basic plot is involving enough on its own terms and throws a fair share of mildly surprising twists at the viewer, but the real focus is on the slow, steady draining of Stephen's earnest ideals. It's another effective slow-burn performance from Ryan Gosling, whose external behavior doesn't change much over the course of the movie but whose moral compass is in the midst of a considerably more dramatic shift. The developments of the plot are noticeably secondary to the developments in Stephen's soul, and entirely too many viewers will recall their own similar (if far less dramatic) moments of political disillusionment. Yes, we know that the current political system is broken. The Ides of March isn't intended to serve as a startling wake-up call but rather as a form of catharsis. It isn't yet another politically themed movie with a misguided sense of self-importance; it's as weary and resigned as the rest of us. Some of the film's most effective moments are those quiet little scenes in which the assorted power players quietly acknowledge the ugliness and absurdity of the game they're caught up in (observe the surprising tenderness in Giamatti's voice at the end of his final scene with Gosling).
The film benefits considerably from having one of 2011's most impressive casts at its disposal. Gosling is the center of attention, but there are plenty of meaty supporting roles. Hoffman and Giamatti are terrific as the relentless, profane campaign managers who bring assorted shades of James Carville, Rahm Emmanuel and George Stephanopoulos into their performances. Clooney's role is smaller than you might expect given how prominently his character was featured in the film's ad campaign, but it represents the actor making clever use of his well-established public image. It's another impressively selfless performance from an actor who has never permitted any of the movies he's directed to feel like vanity projects. Evan Rachel Wood turns in one of her warmest performances in recent times (she does caustic and nasty so well, it can sometimes be easy to forget how effortlessly nice she can seem) and Marisa Tomei is solid in the film's most underwritten role (another scene or two with her character probably would have gone a long way).
The Ides of March (Blu-ray) features an impressive 2.35:1/1080p transfer that allows viewers to appreciate the simple yet distinctive visuals the film offers. There are quite a few striking visual moments littered throughout the film (a conversation that takes place with an oversized American flag as a backdrop; a late-night chat draped in effectively-employed shadows), and they're better enjoyed thanks to the pristine detail and depth this transfer offers. Blacks are deep and inky, flesh tones are warm and natural and colors have a whole lot of pop. The palette is both warm and muted, which seems like the right approach. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track gets the job done nicely; this is a dialogue-driven film that doesn't feature much in the way of complex sound design. Even so, special note should be made of the fine score by Alexandre Desplat, which perfectly captures the film's repressed anguish without calling too much attention to itself. It's a fine, spare work through and through. Supplements are standard but engaging: a sharp commentary with Clooney and his long-time cohort Grant Heslov, a quartet of featurettes ("Believe: George Clooney," "Developing the Campaign: The Origin of The Ides of March," "On the Campaign: The Cast of The Ides of March" and "What Does a Political Consultant Do?") and BD-Live access.
The Ides of March is a classy, intelligent, thought-provoking thriller, yet another fine achievement from an actor/director who seems to be making one smart decision after another.
Review content copyright © 2012 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Digital Copy
* Official Site