Movie Review: “The Ides of March” [TIFF Exclusive]

Written by Josh Litman October 04, 2011

Good, but not great.

That’s how I would sum up George Clooney’s new political pic. And when I say “George Clooney’s,” I mean it every which way; the guy wrote, directed and acted in it. Someone’s been busy, huh?


Ryan Gosling further cements himself as a bona fide star with a truly formidable presence in this shiny new film. Gosling portrays Stephen Myers, a talented press secretary for governor Mike Morris’ (George Clooney) campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. He is filled with optimism and the sense that he believes in what he is doing — and who he is doing it for. Of course, he hasn’t seen the dark side…yet.

The Ides of March is a professionally executed slice of entertainment. It is well-acted throughout, and there are some very nice pockets of humour, especially in the early parts of the film.

Unfortunately, the movie tricks you into thinking a couple of things. One is that it has an array of well-developed characters; it doesn’t. Underdeveloped roles are simply filled by overly talented actors. Gosling’s character is a bit of an exception, though.

Second is the feeling that there’s more to the story than what’s on the surface; there isn’t. The movie wraps itself around one cynical message and doesn’t feel the need to add extra layers; no further goals, character issues, etc. Politics is life and that’s all that matters. I do get that that might be ‘the point’…but it could also just be lazy storytelling.

Evan Rachel Wood does stand out, though, as sexy and seductive 20-year-old intern Molly Stearns with a few…issues, shall we say. And Philip Seymour Hoffman steals the show as Paul Zara, Morris’ experienced campaign manager. Well-written character or not, Hoffman is awesome and commands the screen like no one before him (even more so than Gosling). And Giamatti as Hoffman’s counterpart for the Republicans is also great (as usual). Again, I just wish the characters were more like Transformers (i.e., more than meets the eye). Nevertheless, the actors are game and keep the ball rolling from beginning to end.

It’s important to note that while Clooney does a fine job himself in the film, he’s not much more than a supporting character. He has a relatively small amount of screen time, and his character is fairly cliché and underdeveloped — like many of the others. Seriously, the more I think about it, Clooney’s character is hardly a character at all, but a tool for the plot more than anything else. It’s lucky he’s so charming to distract us from this reality most of the time.

In conclusion, the film is severely lacking in the character department. Gosling’s Myers is the only character with any sort of real development in my opinion (and perhaps Woods’ Molly, too, to an extent). But even Myers falls prey to us not knowing much about him outside of what we see onscreen. For the most part, characters feel like cogs in a machine, intended to serve very specific purposes in support of the message and plot. The world seems too enclosed, even if that is the point.

As a cynical ‘message movie,’ it does its job, I guess. But everything else-wise, I just wanted it to go deeper. The Ides of March is polished and professionally made, and it moves at a decent pace for sure. Clooney is a triple-threat, directing, writing, and starring (sort of). And Gosling is an all-star, which he has proven time and again. Hell, Gosling’s on a streak this year with this, Drive, and Crazy, Stupid, Love. under his belt (the latter being two of my favourite films so far this year).

The Ides of March may be a glossy political flick with shallow characters and great acting, but…well, actually, that’s exactly what it is. So you’ll probably find it to be good. But not great.

My Rating: 7.5/10

 

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About Josh Litman

Josh Litman

Director/producer/writer/actor/editor/cinematographer/musician/neuroscientist… Josh prides himself on being simultaneously awesome and modest. In addition to We Eat Films, Josh also produces his own work (films, writing) under the banner of Action Potential Productions and has his own website, too, where his handiwork can be viewed: www.actionpp.com -- or www.joshlitman.com (if you prefer).

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