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In The Ides of March, characters don’t have relationships with each other.  Not really.  Because in this world of politics, another person is only something to be used when needed and discarded when he or she becomes too much of a liability.  Friendships don’t seem to exist.  There are contacts or employers/employees or consultants, but no confidantes.  The movie shows us just how dangerous secrets are in this realm, and their power to set any number of things in motion.  And there’s no character development, by design.  The film supposes that people, at least in the political racket, are made up of their wants and then, to a man, will do whatever it takes to acheive those goals.  Indeed, it is perhaps telling that the only character seemingly unwilling to let the means justify the ends is the politician himself, George Clooney, a superficially Obama-like (circa 2007) governor vying for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But the story isn’t his, rather it is Ryan Gosling’s, something of a wunderkind who is second in command of Clooney’s campaign, working under Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Other characters include Paul Giamatti, campaign manager for Clooney’s rival; Marisa Tomei in a thankless role as a news reporter; Evan Rachel Wood as an attractive young staffer on Clooney’s campaign; Jeffrey Wright as a senator who could swing the race but is demanding a cabinet-level position in return for the delegates, Jennifer Ehle as Clooney’s wife; and Max Minghella as third in command of Clooney’s campaign, giving the worst performance ever recorded on film.  In completely unrelated news, Minghella is apparently dating Kate Mara in real life.

I don’t think I can get into the plot beyond those character descriptions without getting spoilery.  And though we have policy here of allowing spoilers, I’m not sure there’d be point.  The film is a little slow to get started, but once it does, I’m not sure anything is terribly surprising, necessarily.  It is film about political intrigue – there are power struggles, secrets, scandals, and backroom deals.

And that’s sort of the problem.  Nothing feels terribly inspired about the film.  Everything is entirely professional, of course.  I mean, look at that cast.  But since none of the characters seem to feel any emotion, other than the most generic stuff, each actor is subtle and understated, but not carrying the film on his shoulders.  So there’s not really anything special to watch while the nothing in particular is going on.

One plot point (and I’m not revealing anything that wasn’t in a trailer, I believe) is that Ryan Gosling meets with Giamatti, who as mentioned heads the campaign for the other committee.  This apparently is a big deal.  But John and I both agreed that the film never really justified why it caused so much fallout.  Maybe it really would be a big deal, but if so, that’s inside baseball enough, and so integral to the story, that the film should have done a better job explaining.

A couple stray observations.  Brian and I both noticed that Clooney (as director) seemed to emphasize a particular piece of paper in one scene.  This paper was never brought up again, even though there was a perfect opportunity for it, later on.  I’d be curious to see if anyone else noticed that and found it distracting.  And maybe this is just me, but I thought the film did an excellent job deciding where to drop f-bombs.  Evan Rachel Wood says it the first time early on, bringing a jarring halt to the conversation and really illustrating how it can be a “dirty” word.

In terms of Oscar, the film won’t rate on my ballot.  A middling film with a middling script that doesn’t allow for award-worthy performances.  For the actual Oscars, the film faces a few big roadblocks.  George Clooney is also in The Descendants which seems like it will be better-received and offers Clooney a great shot at Best Actor nomination.  So a lot of Clooney’s capital will be spent on that film.  I think the only other actor in this you could pitch is Gosling, also for Actor.  But he also has Drive, plus actor is going to be a tough category again this year.  Best Adapted Screenplay is certainly a possibility, but another category jam-packed with high profile contenders.  As for Best Picture, as of right now, it seems like some prognosticators I trust have it making the cut but maybe slightly more don’t.  I’d tend to agree with Mark Harris here.  To get a nomination, a film has to be loved by at least a small, if significant, chunk of the population.  I can see The Ides of March picking up downballot votes, but it doesn’t strike me as a film that will inspire passion.

October 2011
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