Though he may not have an auteurist’s touch, George Clooney has proved he knows his way behind the camera. His best film, “Good Night and Good Luck,” is a concise and culturally impactful film: bleak but ringing with pragmatic bells of optimism.
His newest directorial effort, “The Ides of March,” is a far more cynical view of the country’s current state. As the film follows a pair of rival campaigns, Clooney traverses the world of back room politics, where two-faced people take extreme measures to ensure their guy wins it all.
The only major player to start the film unscathed is Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), an up-and-coming staffer whose bright-eyed view of politics is fueling the campaign for Clooney’s character, Mike Morris, a Pennsylvania governor who’s locked in a heated race for the Democratic candidacy for president.
However, Myers soon learns the backhanded nature of the political system, leading him down a path of disenchantment. Clooney injects his film with Shakespearean stakes, depicting Myers’ path to disillusionment as a slow descent into the murky depths of humanity, where backstabbing and bridge burning is the name of the game.
Though it’s a well-constructed and sleekly paced film, “The Ides of March” doesn’t necessarily disclose anything substantial about the sordid realities of American government. In fact, most of its revelations fail to achieve the dramatic impact to which they aspire. ‘
Things get even worse when Clooney and his co-writers inject needless histrionics in the form of a sex scandal subplot.
What the film does have going for it—aside from its stirring score from Alexandre Desplat and its beautifully muted cinematography from Phedon Papamichael—is a refreshing sense of self-awareness.
As Morris, Clooney is every leftist’s wet dream. He’s openly agnostic, has plans to tax the wealthiest of Americans despite the cries of socialism and supports gay rights.
But behind closed doors, Morris is a scoundrel, solely responsible for the aforementioned sex scandal. On top of that, each of his policies, which he delivers so ferociously and convincingly, are merely talking points derived by Myers, the woeful idealist who is steam rolled by reality.
For an actor whose political leanings are as nearly well-known as his body of work, it makes sense that Clooney would opt to play the role of a valiant presidential candidate. After all, being a politician is a lot like being an actor: It requires wit, charisma and a great deal of salesmanship.
Clooney knows this as well as anyone. The most intriguing aspect of “The Ides of March” is watching Gosling follow in stride.
The parallels between the actors and their characters are uncanny. Myers studies Morris, often mimicking his wry smiles and affable gestures. Inversely, Gosling, the indie method actor known for his intensity, seems to be taking cues from Clooney, the suave and collected movie star.
Is “The Ides of March” an allegory on the nature of stardom? Probably not. But in an age where politicians play to a voter’s sensibilities in the way an actor plays to the audiences’, it’s virtually the same.