The title may sound pompous and esoteric, but The Ides of March arrives wrapped in audience friendly packaging despite its potentially restrictive subject matter: back room machinations and interpersonal powerplays in the lead-up to an important US Democrat Primary.
The film assembles four of the best and savviest in-vogue male actors the Hollywood conveyor belt has to offer: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giammatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman, a quadruple whammo that more or less chalks it down as a sight-unseen must-watch.
Clooney warms the director’s chair, flexing his classy performance-centric directorial style, in tune with the rest of his oeuvre including his directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) and the unforgettable Good Night and Good Luck (2005), about TV journalist Edward R Murrow and the days of old school broadcasting.
The tempo is tighter in March as Clooney follows an idealistic but savvy up-n-comer who manoeuvres through a crooked political landscape in which one bad mistake spells your epitaph and turning on your own is par for the course.
Rylan Gosling breezes through the role as Stephen Meyers but generates about the right amount of sweat to give that flavour of the month bod the energy of an overworked perfectionist. Meyers is a campaign adviser to Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), a smooth left-leaning Presidential hopeful.
Meyers genuinely believes in his gift-of-the-gab boss as a world-changing pollie but after a couple of steamy nights with an intern (Evan Rachel Wood) and an encounter with an advisor working for the competition (Paul Giamatti) his professional and personal life take a turn and, predictability, he learns a thing or two about navigating the circuits of political power.
The script, based on a play by Beau Willimon, captures the environment of political campaigning as a predominantly reactionary territory — a series of situations to crisis manage. The crucial dramatic pivot — a late film Maguffin that shoots the third act into high game-ending gear — is a shade contrived, relying on a sideline character who needed better development and more screen time. The event slots neatly in a structural sense but feels too contrived.
Still, there is a great deal to like, plenty of moments of entertaining power-plays. There is one a clever and understated a scene in which Giammati’s character explains how, just by getting somebody to sit next to him on a bar stool, he’s preconfigured a win-win situation with lasting ramifications. It’s a telling vignette of how “normal” activities can be dangerously politicized by people who know how to play the right game, in the right environment.
If those perks don’t persuade you, there is also the tantalizing fiction of being able to vote for Clooney as leader of the free world.
The Ides of March’s Australian theatrical release date: November 24, 2011.