Title: The Ides Of March
Director: George Clooney
Major Players: Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, George Clooney, Marisa Tomei
Out Of Five? 4.5
Today was my third, and final, screening at this year’s London Film Festival – George Clooney’s The Ides of March.
I’d been waiting to see it for months. Back in the spring, at his BAFTA Life in Pictures, Philip Seymour Hoffman told the audience he’d just finished work on a film directed by and starring George Clooney. As well as himself, the cast also included Paul Giamatti, Ryan Gosling and Marisa Tomei. With a pedigree like that, I knew instinctively it would be a must-see.
And this was the film. Stephen Myers (Gosling) is the ambitious press secretary for Democrat Governor and Presidential candidate Mike Morris (Clooney) in a close-fought and crucial primary. Despite his seniority, Myers is still idealistic, as well as being devoted to the man he believes is the only one who can make a difference to people’s lives. But a flattering and tempting offer from the Republican campaign manager (Giamatti) forces him to make uncomfortable choices which soon immerse him in the dirty politics he’s for so long avoided.
This is a sharp political thriller which makes more than a few nods to contemporary American politics: sexual liaisons with a pretty intern immediately bring to mind the most famous intern of them all and the perennial questions about a candidate’s religious convictions are just two. For all his apparent confidence and idealism, Gosling’s character makes some horrendous mistakes. As he himself says, “If you make mistakes, you’re not entitled to play the game” and, for some time, it looks like he certainly isn’t. He naively assumes that a journalist (Tomei) is his friend – something a PR should never do (nor should a journalist assume a PR is theirs!): he has a sexual relationship with a member of the team and he allows himself to believe his own PR when approached by Giamatti.
While the central character of the film is Gosling’s, and he holds it together well, it’s not his film. It belongs to the two campaign managers, played brilliantly by Giamatti and Hoffman. They only share the screen for a brief moment but, as they stretch their lips at each other, the scene is set for the two hard-bitten, cynical political bulls to lock horns over both Gosling and the bigger, ultimate, political prize. They are almost matched by Marisa Tomei’s journlist who, while often appearing simply to be the voice of the press corps, manages to create a character with an incisive mind who will do anything to get to the root of a story and deliver it on time.
Clooney directs with an assured hand, moving the plot along at a brisk pace. Ending scenes with the start of the dialogue for the next one before you’ve actually seen it on screen is a neat trick, keeping you alert so that you don’t miss any of the many twists in the plot. He spends comparatively little time on screen, but plays the ambitious, photogenic politician with his usual apparent ease.
I admit I’m a sucker for political thrillers and this is a good one. It doesn’t tell us anything new about politics, American or otherwise, but it re-creates the behind-the-scenes tensions, machinations and manoeuvrings superbly and, for me, was certainly worth the wait. You won’t have to wait too much longer to see it, either, as it opens around the UK on next Friday, 28 October.
The London Film Festival finishes next Thursday and, while I won’t be attending any more screenings, I’ll have more to say on this year’s event then.