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The Ides of March (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 96 minutes.

Not for children.

Believe it or not, even though this is directed and written by George Clooney (with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on his play), this is not an ideological movie. Clooney plays a Democrat politician, governor Mike Morris, running for the Democrat nomination for President. The setting is the race for the Ohio primary. Morris mouths all the same idiotic platitudes all today's Democrats parrot, like "the rich must pay their fair share," and "we have to get out of paying for all the oil in Saudi Arabia" and stuff like that. Since this is a Democrat primary one never hears the illogic of these litanies, like the fact that the top 10% of income earners pay 72% of all income taxes, so what do Democrats determine to be their "fair share?"

But, fortunately, this isn't about politics. It's about the process, not unlike Robert Redford's 40-year-old film The Candidate (1972). Unlike that film, however, the protagonist is not the candidate (Redford in that film, Clooney in this). It's about the managers of the two campaigns, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). The actual protagonist is Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), Zara's 30-year-old idealistic top assistant.

It's an extremely well-written script with twists rivaling the best thrillers, and in the end,  that's what this is, a thriller. Clooney directs with a deft touch, bringing the film in at an appealing 96 minutes, greatly helped by wonderfully atmospheric music by Alexandre Desplat, and tight editing by Stephen Mirrione. Evan Rachel Wood also contributes a fine performance in a key role.

The main criticism I have of the movie is that there are far to many ECU's (extreme Close-ups) to suit my taste. The first third of the movie is full of them. In the last two-thirds of the film the camera finally pulls back for more normal shots. In my original review I blamed Director of Photography Phedon Papamichael for these disconcerting shots. But here's what a good friend of mine who is a DP told me after reading my original review:

 ...framing and editing is ultimately the responsibility of the Director...no doubt the DP and Director shot various focal lengths of each character in each scene...the editor with the direction of the Director decides which shot to use in the movie, the DP has absolutely no say in it, especially in a film of this budget and with these stars.  If you watch Michael Clayton again, you will see extreme close ups of Clooney throughout the films...he's the one who loves those close ups...and it's his call in every film he directs.

The film captures the cynicism not only of hypocritical candidates like Morris, who isn't close to what he appears to be from the campaign rostrum, but of the managers who run most political campaigns.

The acting is exceptional throughout. The game I played when I came out of the movie was to try to determine who among the main cast, Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman, and Giamatti, all of whom gave award-deserving performances, was the best. And that's a tough call, so good were they all. I did, however, make a choice...

October 5, 2011