Joseph Walsh LFF

BFI London Film Festival 2011: ‘The Ides of March’

★★★☆☆

One of the big-hitters of the 55th BFI London Film Festival and starring and directed by George Clooney, The Ides of March (2011) is a political drama with actor of the moment Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Evan Rachel Wood. Clooney’s latest is adapted from the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, who based the work on his experience of campaigning with presidential candidate Howard Dean in the state of Iowa.

Idealistic Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is the Junior Campaign Manager for Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), a man whom Stephen truly believes can make America a better place. Over the course of the Democratic Party’s presidential primary in Ohio, Stephen learns – the hard way – that politics has always been, and will continue to be, an extremely dirty game.

The Ides of March is neither terrible nor remarkable, and for that it is all the more infuriating. It’s a film of great potential, but it seems that Clooney decided to go light on the political aspect for fear of alienating his audience, whilst remaining overtly Leftist, which could have all been handled with a defter touch.

The central narrative, which is well-conceived but poorly-delivered, never truly allows the audience to invest in its political drama. Primarily, it teaches the rather obvious lesson that politics is a duplicitous game, (even the Democrats occasionally play dirty? Surely not), a two-dimensional conceit that anyone who has ever glanced at a newspaper has managed to grasp.

If it weren’t for the excellent Hoffman as Morris’ Campaign Manager Paul Zara, and Giamatti as Tom Duffy (the slimy Campaign Manager for the rival candidate) The Ides of March would be extremely tiresome. Both Hoffman and Giamatti have some great lines of dialogue – during an unexpected meeting with Meyers, Duffy berates past Democratic candidates unwilling to “get down in the mud with the fucking elephants”. If only the film had been 90 minutes of Giamatti and Hoffman instead of Gosling and Clooney, then this could have been an excellent political drama. Marisa Tomei is equally superb as a Machiavellian journalist, yet is also given far too little screen time.

There is nothing remarkable or revelatory about The Ides of March; narrative shifts can be spotted a mile off, and after a strong first half, Gosling merely broods in the second – it is clear that Gosling needs a great director to work at his best, and Clooney is still very much cutting his teeth. Ultimately, Clooney’s latest effort behind (and in front of) the camera is unlikely to bore, but will perhaps leave you wanting much more.

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Joe Walsh