Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Ides of March (2011) – Review

Review: The Ides of March is a good and very well-made political drama, performance and aesthetically speaking, but it lacks any real sense of emotional connect to the audience. It plays more as a drama, in terms of the audience watching it to find out what happens, than a thriller. Even though all the performances are very good, the audience does not care about the characters, and this is due to director (and co-writer) George Clooney’s inability to create characters that are relatable to the audience, or at least present them as such. As is, the film is presented much more as a tale to be followed, completely plot driven. While there are emotional scenes for the main character Stephen and great moments between characters, they all serve the plot and not the character(s). The viewer never feels invested in Stephen, and thus the drama and mild thriller aspects of the narrative do not engage the audience on a higher emotional level. However despite this shortcoming, Clooney (et al.) still makes a very good film (that could have been great). This is due to fantastic aesthetics, wonderfully written scenes and great performances. It sounds odd that a film can have great performances but not connect with the audience, but it is a matter of how the characters are presented to the audience – whether the viewer is merely supposed to follow them on their journey or actively participate (plot driven versus character driven). However, there are very good plot driven films that still have character moments that allow for a meaningful connection with the audience, so they can be invested, and this is simply lacking in The Ides of March (which I think would otherwise be a great film instead of just a good one). The film’s aesthetics are however quite brilliant and many of the scenes are among my favorites of the year (specifically one between Stephen and Tom Duffy near the end of the second act), elevating the film considerably. An aspect of the film that is also interesting is the portray of American politics as a soul-crushing profession that eats up virtue and spits out emptiness. The characters have goals of making the country better and on the outside seem to be honest, but once the film digs into the backchannels and behind the scenes of their campaigns there is something rotten at the center (and it sure seems like this is probably the case in real life as well). If there is any character drama in the film at all, it is the transition in Stephen’s expression and overall body language from the beginning to the end. All in all, The Ides of March has a lot to like about it (on one viewing, though I question how much it holds up on multiple viewings), but Clooney seems more interested in the style, performances and look of the film than its emotional core.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: George Clooney has directed four features now, and The Ides of March is probably his best (though, many would argue Good Night, and Good Luck. is a better film – but I think it is vastly overrated). Each of his films show off his love for style and the aesthetics of filmmaking, and this is no different. The film is beautifully shot. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael’s lighting is brilliant and among the best of the year, while Sharon Seymour’s production design and sets fit the tone and style of the film perfectly. As much as I liked Papmichael’s work, Alexandre Desplat’s score is maybe even more marvelous. The Ides of March also features really good acting throughout. Jeffrey Wright seems to be having some fun with his character, and it works well. Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman are fantastic in their supporting roles, stealing most of the scenes they are in. Clooney is his typical stoic self, but with hints of cracks (but really this is the same type of performance he always gives). The lead Ryan Gosling is very good as well (with Crazy, Stupid, Love. and Drive, he might be having the best year of any actor), but his performance is slightly overshadowed by the lack of any connection with the audience – and thus we do not care about his character aside from wanting to see how things play out.

Summary & score: Otherwise very well made, The Ides of March is missing its soul, but even so is a good political drama. 8/10

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