IDES OF MARCH joins a list of Clooney’s other throw-back films. It seems that the projects that draw him to direct (and often star in) are often drawn from the films of decades previous. His debut with CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND hinted at his talent behind the camera, and is stunning GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK proved the perfect balance of suave performance and stark story telling. LEATHERHEADS was even more of a throwback to the early genre of screwball, and while a slight film, it nonetheless has some moments of charm.
This time, Clooney is mining the political thriller of the 70s, crafting a look at the machinations of political operations during primary season and set in the contemporary morass of the American culture war. Rather than focusing on the divide between opposing parties, IDES tackles the internecine rivalries that often scar a candidate well before they must face their challenger in the general election. Clooney plays Mike Morris, a “Hopey/Changey” type candidate, a Governor intent on changing the way Washington works. His campaign staff consists of a hardened veteran supervisor played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and his young, brash and idealistic assistant played by Ryan Gosling. In a delicious bit of casting, the foil to Hoffman is played by Paul Giamatti, and having this two fine, somewhat zaftig actors out grimace one another is one of the key pleasures of the film.
For in the end, that’s the majority of what IDES gives us, moments of great pleasure watching actors chew up scene after scene. Save for Marisa Tomei as a frumpy print reporter, who I felt to be more shrill than required, the rest of the ensemble rise to the task of providing a consistent tone throughout the film. When Morris’s sheen is tarnished due to the oldest of political and personal foibles, the simple narrative is buttressed with the passion each performer brings to their portrayals.
In other words, while there’s little shocking or even original in the plot, it’s all a mechanism, seemingly, to watch some very fine performers do their thing, with somber cinematography and a deliberate pace. The film’s story may not have the sophistication of a political thriller along the lines of JULIUS CAESAR, but must like many a production of Shakespeare, the shock of betrayal and lust is softened through having knowledge of the narrative well before, yet simply enjoying the pleasure of a tale well performed.
New wonderboy Gosling does hold his own exceptionally well against his more seasoned compatriots, and Clooney himself is absolutely stunning on screen, his air of both political power and eventual cold malice is once again reminiscent of the fine works of classic Hollywood megastars. Stalwart Jeffrey Wright is as effective as always, and the often awkward female roles of wife and girlfriend (played by Jennifer Ehle and Evan Rachel Wood) are given sufficient dramatic weight to make them more than mere cliché.
Sure to generate interest in this heated political season, the film remains less a take on the contemporary feuds paralyzing American political discourse, and more a universal, if not quite Shakespearean take on the nature of power, idealism and charisma, and the simplicity often inevitability of downfall. IDES OF MARCH hardly challenges our expectations, but it remains a great deal of fun to spend time in the world of subterfuge, deceit and hubristic comeuppance.