The Ides of March - A political potboiler

The Ides of March
A; Political thriller, Drama
Dir: George Clooney
Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffery Wright
Rating: ****

Ryan Gosling in 'The Ides of March'

One of the loveliest recurring visual motifs in The Ides of March involves a girl, who is pretty in the most nondescript way possible. Clad in a standard sweater-and-tweed-skirt uniform, she walks around delivering coffee to the cogs working behind the scenes to ensure that Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) becomes the next President of the United States, biding time until she can move up the ladder.

George Clooney's latest, a sublime tale of betrayal and deceit in American politics, is essentially a montage of such moments, taking special care to show us the whirring of the machinery behind the polished veneer of presidential campaigns. At its core, this film is a morality play, with the idealistic (or so we're told) Stephen Meyers (Gosling), an ambitious hotshot in the early stages of a spin-doctoring career.

The title, an obvious reference to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, presents Meyers as a mixture of Brutus and Mark Antony, wide-eyed and optimistic in the opening scenes (despite a somewhat contradictory rogue-ish charm), who finds himself in the middle of a political scandal. His loyalty to Morris, a liberal Democrat with offbeat opinions, is established in an early scene with New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Tomei). He comes across as sincere, while his boss Paul Zara (Hoffman) possesses the cynicism that comes with experience.

There is a charming scene in which Meyers is seduced by 20-year-old intern Molly Stearns (Wood), and several other excellently written scenes between Meyers and rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Giamatti), a calculative, pragmatic man, who is the Dark Side to Meyers' Anakin Skywalker. However, the standout scene of the movie is one where Morris delivers an impassioned speech against the backdrop of the American flag, drawing cheers and applause from the audience, while Meyers and Zara try their best to contain a situation that has gone horribly wrong.

One could complain that The Ides of March offers nothing new in terms of plot points or subject matter, but the treatment is what makes it tick. The terrific writing, by Clooney himself along with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, ensures that each character gets his or her own voice. It helps that this is one of the best ensemble performances this year, treating us to the pleasures of Hoffman's note-perfect bluster or Giamatti's cynicism.

For the first time in recent memory, Clooney -- who is as fantastic as ever -- is eclipsed by Gosling's subtle-yet-commanding performance, his second this year after Drive. They have dissimilar styles of acting -- Gosling is less mannered and not as riveting in his dialogue delivery -- but there is much to compare between the two.

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