Sunday, 31 March 2013

Film Review | The Ides Of March (2011)

I'm a big fan of The West Wing, the US political drama focused on Martin Sheen's President Bartlet and his White House staff. It's the most entertaining, engrossing, well-written and authentic-feeling dramatic representation of the world of politics I've ever experienced. What this essentially means is that I now consciously measure any other politically-oriented dramatic work against The West Wing. Maybe this means  I can be quite severe when passing judgement on political dramas, or maybe it's just that I acknowledge just how high-quality this subgenre can be and don't take kindly to those who try to cut corners when presenting the world of politics. Whilst The Ides Of March could never be accused of corner-cutting, it feels a little too lacking in several areas to be considered a truly great political drama.

The film's greatest strength is by far its cast. Ryan Gosling leads ably, crafting an engaging and, for the majority of the time, believable protagonist in junior campaign manager Stephen Meyers. The supporting cast too displays a cornucopia of talent, with Philip Syemour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and George Clooney (who also writes and directs) all reliably excellent. The tone throughout much of the film is also well struck, with palpable tension and pleasing authenticity created through the aesthetic and cinematographic choices Clooney makes as director.

The Ides Of March's problems come from a few key weaknesses in Clooney's script, which manifest themselves more and more as the film progresses. Some characters lack the integrity to genuinely ring true. Gosling's Meyer, for example, is set up during the film's opening act as a bright young spark in political management who has risen quickly through the ranks of Governor Morris' (Clooney) campaign staff due to his keen intelligence of the world of politics. However, several key decisions Meyer makes throughout the film indicate a serious lack of understanding and experience in the field, and the Meyer we see in the film's final act feels in some ways like a different character to the person introduced at the start. Watch too as Evan Rachel Wood's intern changes personality almost entirely, from sassy free spirit to panic-stricken young trollop in just one scene. It's stretches too far such as these that leave Clooney's script lacking in the tightness needed to achieve a genuinely satisfying level of authenticity.

Ultimately, Clooney's film is enjoyable enough thanks mainly to the cast and Clooney's directorial skill. It's just a shame that the mistakes the film contains hold it back from genuine greatness, as the potential was definitely there. As it is, The Ides Of March is certainly enjoyable, but doesn't deserve to join the ranks of cinema's truly great political dramas.


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