THE IDES OF MARCH ***
What’s interesting about George Clooney’s new film (as a Director) is how similar it is to its subject matter: like American politics, it is slick, shiny, and ultimately a little shallow and unsatisfying. This was a disappointment to me, as I consider Clooney’s film GOODNIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK not just one of the great American political movies, but one of the ten most important films of the first decade of the 21st Century. THE IDES OF MARCH is not that important. It’s not a satire, and it’s not Clooney’s Huge, Important Film About American Politics. I’m so convinced that Clooney will eventually make his Huge, Important Film About American Politics that it’s odd to me he’s made this one: his small, entertaining film about American politics.
It’s fun, to be sure: a very brisk ride through campaign politics – in this case, that of a very small “l” liberal (Democrat) candidate against his “Primary” campaign opponents, told from the point of view of his secondary Campaign Advisor, excellently played (as always – is this guy the new Clooney or what?) by Ryan Gosling. Gosling is the new Clooney – he’s in everything, has got a rep for being smart and sexy and extremely capable, but his presence in a film hardly guarantees big box office (and, if you think this isn’t the case with Clooney, think again: basically, his only big hits are the Ocean’s movies). Gosling, like Clooney, seems destined to be a movie star forever – and the unique kind that doesn’t require a massive public following to keep him there, because his smaller public following is already so dedicated, so enamored. It also seems like destiny that these two should be working together – the two “thinking man’s sex symbols”, critic’s and director’s darlings, celebrities for the arthouse crowd. Indeed, the (excellent) poster for THE IDES OF MARCH shows a “Time” magazine cover folded vertically in half, so that the cover subject – a close up of Clooney – is fleshed to fullness by half of Gosling’s face: could it say any more clearly: Gosling is the new Clooney, and in this film we’re gonna cement that for you?
The acting is all first rate. Evan Rachel Wood is once again outstanding as a campaign intern; Marisa Tomei plays against type as an unlikeable journo politico, as does Jeffrey Wright as a swinging Senator. But the best moments in the movie come from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as the Chief Managers of Clooney’s and his rival’s campaigns: as two heavy-hitters fighting for Gosling’s soul, these two acting heavyweights give a masterclass in high-status characterization, and each has a knock-out scene full of meaty monologues and indignant emotion. Gosling is with each of them, respectively, for these scenes, and you can see not only the character but the actor patiently supporting them, learning from them, ready – and destined – to ultimately take their place.