HERE. I guess it's safe to say as a viewing audience we're not going to get many in the way of happy-go-lucky political movies these days. Yeah, recession! Political thrillers are usually pretty reliable though -- however familiar -- so I at least wanted to give 2011's The Ides of March a fair shot.
It is a week away from the all-important but not quite decisive Ohio primary for the Democratic party, and campaign adviser Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is riding high. He is second only to veteran manager, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), a popular, likable and seemingly shoe-in candidate for the next presidential election. The Republicans have no counter for him so all Morris needs to do is gain the Democratic bid. Stephen genuinely believes in Morris, thinking he has a chance to help make things right in America where others will certainly fail. As the Ohio primary draws closer though, their Democratic rivals for the bid have news that could cripple the campaign, not to mention Stephen finding out something about the supposedly-perfect Governor Morris.
There is a certain comfort level when watching a political thriller. From older classics like Fail Safe and The Manchurian Candidate to more recent entries like Spy Game, the Jack Ryan films, and The International, it is an enjoyable genre to watch. You know what to expect going in; betrayals, under-handed deals, conspiracies, murder and who knows what else? While I don't think 'Ides' is a classic by any means, I can say I enjoyed it. The story telegraphs everything that's going to happen -- okay, there's a twist here and there -- and the characters are stock characters we've all seen before and will see again. It isn't particularly unique, new, or even that memorable, but in the moment? It's good enough. Put as much talent together as was involved here (Clooney also directed and wrote), and it's hard to mess that up.
A star on the rise, Gosling had quite a year in 2011 with starring roles here and also in Drive and Crazy, Stupid Love. I'm not completely sold on him yet, but I think there's potential if nothing else. Just 31 years old, he is excelling of late at playing that smart, preppy, well-spoken young man able to get what he wants because he's smooth, charming and likable. In other words? Feels like he's playing himself. Of all the characters though, Gosling's Stephen is given the only real character arc from beginning to end. It sounds dumb, but it is cool to actually see a character change some over the course of a film. It is a somewhat obvious change -- idealistic and naive to bitter and manipulative -- but because Gosling is so likable, I went along for the ride. His character is supposed to be disarming and able to convince you of something without revealing he's doing that. Good if not great performance to lead the way.
The rest of the cast definitely comes from the Stock Characters 101: Political Thrillers Edition. If there was lesser talent involved, it'd be a dull movie to watch. Clooney is Clooney, a similarly charming presidential candidate who is respected and even loved by some of his followers. Some thinly veiled comparisons to the Obama campaign fall flat by the way. It's not an out of this world great part, but a necessary one. It amounts to what the Morris character means more than what we actually see. Hoffman is his typical solid self, intense throughout as the veteran campaign manager with far too many campaigns under his belt, Paul Giamatti as Tom Duffy, Hoffman's rival in the other Democratic camp. Giamatti is a scene-stealer in a small but very effective supporting role. Evan Rachel Wood is also good if a little cliched as Molly, the 20-year old intern who similarly believes in Morris, but also has her eye on Gosling's Stephen. Marisa Tomei does what she can as a walking cliche, a reporter looking for a scoop and not caring who gets taken down in the process.
It is a story that is focused on politics so are we supposed to be surprised when we find out that everyone has secrets they'd like to keep to themselves? Nothing about 'Ides' should shock viewers, absolutely nothing. If the movie is at fault, it's there. While the twists and turns in the campaign are key, they don't exactly come out of left field. Jeffrey Wright as a Democratic senator who will pledge his delegates to Morris....if he gets a cabinet seat?!? Gasp! 'Ides' shouldn't surprise you. People making decisions not on like or dislike, but the bigger picture seems like Politics 101 to me. Manipulation, betrayal, blackmail, back-alley deals, under-handed arrangements, conspiracy theorists, all the ingredients of the game.
With that said, I did like this movie. It isn't a great political thriller, but it is a good one if nothing else. If it's not particularly original or innovative, well, so be it. A good political thriller can still be a good thing.
The Ides of March <---trailer (2011): ***/****