Monday, November 28, 2011

the ides of march

Despite my general lack of knowledge about the intricacies of politics, I don’t mind watching movies with a political bent. After I wrote that sentence, I had a think about political movies and realised that they’re mostly satires (and I do love a good opportunity to say “Oooohhh, sick presidential burn”) or thrillers (“No, Mr President! There’s a bomb on Air Force One!”) and political dramas are not that common. Perhaps it’s because it’s a very limited point of view—to discuss politics in depth you often have to know how one particular country’s system works—or maybe because it gets played out on the news every damn day and you need something much more interesting to make people want to pay to see those in power tell lies and wear power suits. The Ides of March succeeded, I’ll hazard a guess, by populating the movie with actors that everyone admires: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman. These are people who attach their names to things that are generally great, so even if the dramatic ad campaign for The Ides of March didn’t give much away—treachery! shouting! manipulation!—we all knew it would be worthwhile.

And that it is. Sometimes I feel with movies that are a bit out of my reach of knowledge that I will say they’re good just so I don’t appear to have missed the point (not in reviews, dear readers, you know I don’t lie to you—but in conversation); American politics are not my forte, but even so, I felt I had enough of a grasp of what was happening to follow it. And that it a very good thing indeed. George Clooney (who also directed) plays Governor Mike Morris, a Democrat who is not only handsome and charismatic but would clearly never be elected to any kind of office because he holds dear all those things that politicians should—tax the rich, be pro-choice—but never do because they would lose all funding and the conservative vote. It all adds up to someone it’s easy to get behind for the sake of the movie, anyway. It’s the primaries—which means his current battle is against another Democrat, Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell) to see who will win the right to go for the position of president. This whole enemy-within-your-own-party thing is a little strange and something not all countries do, but hey, for the purposes of the movie all you need to know is that Clooney wants to beat that other guy and rule the world, so even if you don’t know what primaries are, it doesn’t really matter. Assisting our beloved George on his campaign trail are his team of media-savvy folk, headed by Paul Zara (Hoffman) and Paul’s 2IC, the boy wonder Stephen Meyers (Oh-My-Gosling.) They do their best to get Morris saying the right things to the right people and round up the team of interns (including the lovely Molly Stearns, played by a very pale Evan Rachel Wood) to lead the way. Elsewhere, journalist Ida (Marisa Tomei, playing a normal person for once) is out for a scoop; Senator Pullman’s own campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Giamatti), has his eye on Steve; and Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) holds all the cards for those who will pay. It all builds up to what seems like it will be a more overarching political drama until a particular scandal comes to light and changes everything, for everyone, for better or for worse.

The acting is unsurprisingly excellent, though Gosling (who is my favourite actor of the moment) can lapse into a pretty vacant stare sometimes which I find unnerving. The cinematography and Alexandre Desplat’s soundtrack make for very intimate drama—you feel unexpectedly involved in Steve’s life, despite knowing nothing about what he does outside of politics (probably nothing) or anything about his past (apart from that he’s possibly mad at his dad). The moment it is in danger of becoming, well, not slow but possibly mired in political heaviness, the tight script then takes the movie down a different path and reinvigorates everything. Sometimes you feel almost emotionally blank towards particular events, and then one seemingly throwaway comment will bring everything back to being quite personal and real. It really is an amazingly well-crafted movie, much like Clooney’s previous directorial effort Good Night and Good Luck.

Alas, it fails the Bechdel Test pretty solidly; there are women in it—Molly, Ida, Governor Morris’s wife Cindy (Jennifer Ehle)—but they are too busy being vampy, traitorous or motherly to have any time to talk to each other. After a quick check of the Bechdel Test website, someone even points out that there is a moment when Molly talks to a female doctor or nurse, but the scene is completely without sound. It seemed poignant at the time, but upon reflection, well, no. Women are not given enough to do in this movie, and it’s disappointing, to be honest.

I give it seven and a staircase out of ten levels of the top levels of the United Nations (and that, my friends, is a reference in the film that I did not understand at all.)

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