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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei

Director: George Clooney

When a movie has been hyped as much as The Ides of March, it’s rather easy to get caught up in it all, and walk in with enormous expectations, determined to either love the movie or hate it. But, a lot of what one thinks of this movie depends on how little one knows of the plot. Since I tend to go in to watch most films with a tabula rasa – all I knew about this one was that it had something to do with a political campaign (no, not even who the candidate – if there was one – was) – I’ll try to reveal nothing of the plot, and certainly nothing of the twist that makes the movie what it is.

We meet Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), the protégé of Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the senior campaign manager of a nominee for Democratic candidature to Presidency, as he’s doing a mic. test ahead of a speech Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is due to make. This, and the last scene, which bears an eerie resemblance to The Godfather, tells you why Ryan Gosling’s the lead in this movie, and Clooney’s part of the supporting cast.

Paul, a veteran of campaigns dating back to the time Stephen was born, believes he’s showing a greenhorn the ropes. The senior campaign manager of the other nominee for Democratic Presidential candidature, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) believes Stephen can “play them along like pieces on a chessboard and make it look effortless”. Ida (Marisa Tomei), who may be the kitschiest portrayal of a political reporter on screen yet, believes Stephen can be poked and tapped. Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), the daughter of the President of the Democratic National Committee, believes she can get Stephen into bed. Stephen believes in Mike Morris.

Gosling, who seems to have cemented his foothold in the dog-eats-dog genre of films, has the daunting task of portraying naïveté, ambition, rage, shock, disappointment, determination, and cunning in the space of a few minutes. For all his near mastery of stoic expression and understated acting, this rather gruelling ask has him overdoing the working of his mouth, to the extent it appears almost like a tic. But that is not to take anything away from him; these minor, but distracting, mannerisms are noticeable for the same reason that a tiny wrinkle in a silken scarf is made prominent by the flawlessness of its setting. Gosling looks engrossed as he observes a bumbling speech, supercilious as he directs Ben Harpen (Max Minghella) to do his bidding, and horrified as he realises just how big the league he’s playing in is, how far people will go to stay in it, and how much of a rookie he himself is.

George Clooney plays the kind of ruggedly handsome, über polished, smooth-talking, seemingly outspoken man whom everyone would like to see in the Oval Office. He holds forth on gun crime, charms an intelligent student with uncomfortable questions into giving him a gushing smile, offers a solution to terror – “you want to end terror, stop wanting their oil” – and shows the upstarts who’s boss, in the seclusion of a dark room.

Clooney has proved his worth as a director rather often in the past few years. Occasionally, though, there comes a blip that makes it seem less far-fetched that this guy once strutted around a candyfloss version of Gotham City in a bodysuit, accompanied by a multi-coloured, smooth-faced sidekick. One particular scene, involving rain on the windshield, teeters dangerously towards falling into maudlin, but is rescued by some formidable acting by Gosling.

Clooney has always been able to strike that elusive balance between what to show and what not to. And this is best illustrated by another scene involving a negotiation inside a car. There are several other instances of what appear to be coincidences, or irrelevant details – an uncanny resemblance in the clothes two characters wear, a jumble of words during a test speech, an aside during a conversation about career options post politics – assuming significance in retrospect.

In a film peppered with dialogues like “If you’re President of this country, you can start a war, you can cheat, you can lie, you can bankrupt the country, but you can’t fuck the interns”, there are some that get rather prematurely clever. Every now and then, there’s a gap in the logic that troubles the viewer and makes him or her itch with a niggling counterargument – in this case, it has to do with a discussion on making service to the country mandatory at the age of 18.

A twist or two in the plot may be obvious to the audience before it hits the character it affects, and that tends to make the reactions of that character border on hamming. Clooney needs very good actors to pull off most of his scripts and storylines, and in this case, he gets them. A better research team may have told him the plot had more in common with Henry VI than Julius Caesar, though. In which case, he should probably have called this one Warwick.

The cinematic appeal of the shots, the music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, the testosterone-driven texture of the film, and guest appearances by familiar faces from American television news leave one with a surreal sense of straddling fiction and reality. And the story makes you wonder – especially if you happen to be driving back from a night show – whether, if you were to mow someone down on an unlit side street, you would stop and do the right thing, or drive away quickly; or, if it were raining and you spotted a man on crutches, struggling to hop over potholes, you would pull over and offer him a lift.


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