Film Review by Kam Williams
Headline: Politics Makes for Strange Bedfellows in Presidential Race Thriller
Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) joined Mike Morris’ (George Clooney) presidential campaign out of a heartfelt conviction that the Pennsylvania Governor was “the only one who’s going to make a difference in people’s lives.” And the idealistic press secretary’s bright-eyed enthusiasm has remained apparent even to casual observers like the NY Times reporter (Marisa Tomei) who can’t help but observe that “You really have drunk the Kool-Aid.”
By contrast, Stephen’s jaded boss, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is a relatively-cynical veteran with plenty of campaigns under his belt. So, he’s intuitively decided to keep a close eye on his gullible protégé, given that Governor Morris is on the brink of securing the Democratic nomination. All he needs to do is keep his image clean until the upcoming Ohio primary, since the polls indicate he’s already the favorite to collect the Buckeye State’s 160+ convention delegates.
However, the street savvy Zara is well aware that the campaign of their only competitor, Arkansas Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell), is being run by Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), a Machiavellian manipulator desperate to win at any cost. The cutthroat Duffy is not above stooping to dirty tricks such as dangling a plum cabinet position in front of a powerful politician (Jeffrey Wright) in return for a coveted, influential endorsement.
When they arrive in Cincinnati on the eve of the candidates’ final debate, Stephen has no idea he’s on the verge of having both his judgment and loyalty sorely tested. Between being tempted by a flirtatious intern (Evan Rachel Wood) and being invited to rendezvous for a drink at a sports bar by a disarmingly-affable rival with a hidden agenda, he finds himself having to negotiate a gauntlet of potential pitfalls. The trouble is that a failing might not merely reflect upon Stephen, but it could have some serious repercussions for the entire campaign.
This is the compelling premise of The Ides of March, a multi-layered thriller containing a number of cleverly-concealed twists highlighting precisely the sort of back-stabbing machinations apt to unfold behind-the-scenes of a hotly-contested political campaign. The movie was produced, directed and co-stars George Clooney who also helped adapt it to the screen from “Farragut North,” a play loosely based on Howard Dean’s ill-fated bid for the presidency.
The talented cast Clooney assembled, including Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood, managed to execute his vision magnificently without once hitting a false note. Gosling’s Oscar-quality performance proves particularly noteworthy, as the underrated actor exhibits a credible combination of cockiness and naïveté as the picture’s compromised protagonist.
Presidential politics making for strange bedfellows, literally and figuratively.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for pervasive profanity.
Running time: 101 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Monday, October 3, 2011
Film Review by Kam Williams