Nonstop Movies: ‘The Ides of March’

It’s often said that George Clooney ages like a fine wine, getting better as the years go by. Of course those who say that are probably referring to his good looks, but now it can also apply to his directorial work. “The Ides of March” is Clooney’s fourth film as a director (“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “Good Night and Good Luck,” “Leatherheads”) and also his best, which is saying a lot considering he’s already been nominated for a Best Director Oscar for “Good Night and Good Luck.” In his latest film, Clooney also stars, playing Gov. Mike Morris, a leading Democratic candidate making a U.S. Presidential run. The story takes place during the last few days before the crucial Ohio primary election as Morris battles his rival, Senator Pullman, in a very tight race.

But while Clooney’s name may be splashed all over the poster as director, producer, writer and star, this is Ryan Gosling’s movie. It’s been a stellar year for Gosling, who’s already delivered acclaimed performances in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “Drive.” In “The Ides of March,” he carries the film as Stephen Meyers, Morris’ genius press secretary. He’s young and idealistic, standing behind a candidate he firmly believes in, despite working in the jaded world of politics. Marisa Tomei, who plays reporter Ida Horowitz, tells Meyers early in the film that on the grand scale of things, it doesn’t matter who wins the election because nothing really changes for the common people. But despite such cynicism, Meyers still believes in the system and the change that his candidate is promising. As he explains, he’s “drunk the Kool-Aid, and it’s delicious.”

Not so naive and idealistic are the two campaign managers for the leading candidates, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for Team Morris and Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) for Team Pullman. Both have been in the game for decades and are all too familiar with the back room deals and reluctant compromises that need to be made in order to get their men into office. With the result of the Ohio primary being so unpredictable, both Zara and Duffy simultaneously campaign for the state’s votes, while also wooing powerful Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) to join their side, along with his hundreds of delegates. It’s a power struggle to the end, with all parties testing their limits of how far and how low they’re willing to go to win the election.

“The Ides of March” is an excellent showcase for Clooney’s skills as a director and just about every choice he makes is spot on. The pacing, framing, editing and camera angles are all effective and make the film work. Two scenes where Zara confronts his protege Meyers (one in a hotel room, another against the backdrop of an enormous American flag) are especially notable for their tension and emotion, along with a quiet scene when Meyers learns the dirty secret of a campaign intern (Evan Rachel Wood).

Of course, as with any team effort, a good leader is aided by the talent of the people around him and Clooney is fortunate to be supported by some of the best. Hoffman, Giamatti, Gosling, Tomei and Wright are all award-winning actors, and they all perform to expectations. Hoffman is especially powerful as Morris’ relentless campaign manager and owns every scene he’s in.

Despite covering the same ground as other political films in the past, “The Ides of March” is a suspenseful and intelligent film with great performances and direction and should easily finish as one of my favorite films of 2011.

“The Ides of March,” 101 minutes, is Rated R and opens in theaters today.