DIRECTED BY GEORGE CLOONEY
STARRING: RYAN GOSLING, EVAN RACHEL WOOD, PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, PAUL GIAMATTI, MARISA TOMEI, MAX MINGHELLA, GREGORY ITZIN, MICHAEL MANTELL with JEFFREY WRIGHT and GEORGE CLOONEY
George Clooney’s ‘the Ides of March’ is one of two movies in the Oscar race to present an insider story on a worldwide phenomenon. The other, of course, is ‘Margin Call’, a promising debut by J.C. Chandor which, I felt, fell short in the way it worked its acting set-pieces. Both are exaggerated versions of real-time events, the hike in drama demanding substantiation in performance. A good movie is one which leaves the viewer convinced. ‘Margin Call’, I found, didn’t quite make the sale. The acting powerhouse of ‘the Ides of March’, on the other hand, sent me home, satisfied. The latter faces the might of this year’s best in the ‘Adapted Screenplay’ category, while Chandor fights ‘A Separation’ in a comparatively easier pool for writing his own script. It’s a strong case of happenstance.
Ryan Gosling plays the believer in Stephen Meyers, a strategy consultant and a junior to Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), testing the water in a sea of sharks. The two of them are chief and deputy in Governor Mike Morris’ (Clooney, infrequent) election campaign. Steve writes Mike’s speeches and advises on his policies; he contributes with literature, in short, while Paul is a sort of steer-wrestler bringing the Bulls into their game. Mike, on his part, chooses to listen to them. We’re given a backstage pass to a Democrat campaign without having to deliver coffee to get a place. It’s as simple as that.
Equally simple is the premise. It’s Ohio before North Carolina in the Primary. Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright, solid) is the prize to win. With him, the corresponding party gets 356 delegates rest-assured. The Republicans, headed by Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell) under the guidance of Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) take a conservative stand, going for nothing but the right wing. Or so they say. Paul meets Thompson in an encounter that seems to go well. At least that’s what he tells Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei, refreshingly brazen, off-hand and tired), a reporter for the Times working close with Gov. Morris’ campaign. Stephen believes in Paul as he works his charm alongside, winning Morris, his audience and the advances of 20-year old intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood). This, obviously, is when things start to go wrong.
‘the Ides of March’ is a tragedy of errors. Two people make a mistake each, one impulsive with a misstep that hurts no one but himself, the other – a sillier and hence hefty mistake that could put the whole campaign in jeopardy. I presume I needn’t say who is who. It is also a tale of becoming, of David-turning-Goliath to match his strength, wisdom and its ugliness. It does not empower him with undying ability. It lays down before him guidelines of priorities and a protocol that would ultimately get him the job of his superior, working for a man whom he has to conquer to gain allegiance; whom he has to defeat to get to work for his victory. His ambition becomes an action plan with sacrifice incorporated into routine. And the end is but an end to an episode in the life of a man where we get to see what he has become.
The film derives its screenplay from ‘Farragut North’ by Beau Willimon, who had written the play from his own experience in the primary campaign of Governor Howard Dean in the 2004 Democratic Primary. It was premiered, I hear, as a lead-up the 2008 Presidential Election. Clooney, on his part, has made the movie a year before the 2012 Presidential run, the heat of election showing already.
Does this mean that this body of work, both in film and on stage, has anything to contribute to the actual political scenario? Is it an expose, in other words? Not entirely. The truth is that it doesn’t intend to be. It’s a tragedy that doesn’t get lost in a fortress of grandeur; which deliberates the impassive tone it takes to narrate itself made by a man who’s shown promise in this type of movie. After ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mind’, ‘Leatherheads’ and the class of ‘Good Night and Good Luck’, Clooney crafts ‘the Ides of March’ to be his most-riveting, subtle and incisive performance of all as Director. He has a Clint Eastwood eye for detail, not compromising on technicalities, not dwelling on them either. The key is to communicate, to keep things simple and to keep them real. He does that with precision.
Should I even start on Ryan Gosling, the actor of this generation who’s tailor-made for about any role that he’s assigned to? He is Stephen Meyers – as charming, as vigorous, as angry and just as sad. He’s like Kevin Lomax (from ‘the Devil’s Advocate’) with a wound to show. Like James Clayton (Colin Farrell in ‘the Recruit’) pitted against a Walter Burke (Al Pacino) who knows to keep it shut. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are convincing as veterans Paul and Tom, permanent sets in their own ideals. To Paul, it’s all about loyalty. Tom, who is oversaturated with a cynicism that has him working numbers for life, takes it as a battle of wit. They have nothing to do with the candidates whose victory, ironically to them, means everything. It’s a consultant ideal. These men, with their lives, school us against belief for the simple reason that it is absurd. They’re not opposite forces in a morality conflict. They’re tablets prescribed for guilt-free functioning, where to overdose means to ‘do better.’
Which brings me to a serious observation I made. In every tale of ruthlessness, a woman is sacrificed. It happened in ‘the Devil’s Advocate’ (the dream sequence). It happened even in ‘the Interview’, a play written by Siddharth Kumar and staged at the Metro Plus Theatre Fest 2011. It happens in ‘the Ides of March’ as well, with Molly Stearns taking the fall for the sake of two men who, literally, screw her over. I understand how dispensable she made herself to be. But it’s frightening, nevertheless. There has only been one Monica Lewinsky in as far as I know. The rest stay buried with the truth that died in an honour-killing move. Any word out is scandal, any scandal is potential threat where all such threats need to be taken care of. It’s mind-numbing.
‘the Ides of March’ is like ‘the Ghost Writer’ of this year. As exciting, as well-made. Better performed. Even if it might not package the champion storytelling of one like Polanski, it endears in the way it lets itself be carried entirely upon the shoulders of the ever-dependable Gosling, playing a stronger, more admirable scapegoat than Ewan McGregor. His Stephen fits our aspirations. We live as him. We take his fall. We come out on top in the end. And we know we haven’t won. It’s a comfortable sort of defeatism that has us grow fond of it, because sometimes you lose a hand to keep your reputation. Reputation is what people think of you, which in turn is what Ida tells them to. That, in short, is the lesson learned.