Sunday, 6 November 2011

ides of march (d. gerorge clooney, w. clooney, grant heslov, beau willimon)

It's that time of year in the twentieth century's greatest empirical force, when the farrago of selecting the next leader gets under way in earnest. It is, as Cheney might have said, a duck shoot. Candidates line themselves up waiting to be shot down; if they somehow survive, who knows, the title of the most powerful man on the planet could be waiting for them. At the moment, a man called Herman Cain is the surprise leader in the Republican polls, but already his campaign has started to falter amid innuendo and rumour. Who knows: in ten years time he could be a household name (given his political & economic strategy one is inclined to hope not) or he could be mired in obscurity, the answer to a pub quiz question.

It's this curious selection process that the Ides of March focuses on, looking at the course of rival Democratic campaigns as they reach Wintery Ohio, with the knockout blow waiting to be dealt. Who will be the last duck standing: the charismatic but morally compromised Clooney or his anodyne rival whose name is Pullman but who isn't played by Bill Pullman. (Perhaps some kind of in-joke?) This is the backdrop for the story of Stephen Meyers, played by Ryan Gosling, a naif, ambitious, would-be political strategist-guru, who is about to learn the real dirty realities of politics.

Gosling's journey is at the heart of the film and it's his performance that redeems a sometimes verbose script (adapted from Willimon's play). The opening scenes are self-consciously laden with "great" dialogue: ie the kind of dialogue where you can almost see the written words on the page. It's heavy handed and not helped by the uninspiring cinematography. Gosling sleeps with an intern who's in all kinds of trouble before she kills herself. For a moment, as he resorts to speaking on public payphones and the camerawork becomes edgier, it feels as though we're about to enter political thriller territory. But gradually Gosling begins to flex his acting muscles and the latter half of the film is all about his journey towards political anti-karma. Tellingly, it's Gosling's silence which is the most effective thing about the film; the morally compromised outsider, like Iago, who says more saying nothing than he would if he spoke. In contrast to the falseness of the words that the campaigns are made of. Gosling ditches any idealism he might have had, accepts the compromise and joins the bandwagon, which would appear to be rolling all the way to the White House.

There's something rather clunky about Ides of March. It's like a slightly undercooked Three Days of the Condor without the thrills. The polish and the resources and the cleverness have such a sheen that they can't help but feel tawdry. It would be nice to think that this is all part of a bid to authentically capture the vaudeville aspects of the campaign trail, but one suspects that in actuality it's all part of the film's own bid to pick up votes at Oscar time and in the multiplexes. Which is reasonable: that's what Hollywood films are designed to do. It's just that, given the scope of the film's political critique, it feels as though a little bit more cinematic ambition might have been warranted. What redeems Ides of March is Gosling's performance, his increasingly blank face as the film progresses encapsulating the glassy hollowness of all he is caught up in.

1 comment: said...

the goz is to silence, when pacino is to brouhaha