Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Ides of March (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Ides of March

George Clooney directs a Mametian political expose that  turns egotistical stomachs in "The Ides of March". The step by step narrative of ambition, power and deceit is based on a play, "Farragut North" by Beau Willimon. There have been scores of political thrillers but the starkness of detail in this latest outing, puts George Clooney in the same directorial orbit as Oliver Stone for picturing political figures caught in  moral quicksand.

Clooney plays Democratic hopeful Mike Morris. Morris is honest, a bit too honest. When we first meet him, he skirts the issue as to whether he believes in God or not. Morris's campaign poster is clearly Obamaesque. In place of HOPE it reads BELIEVE. Morris is an ultra Obama and the country is crazy for him. He is far more popular than the Ford-like  Republican hopeful, who is like a wet noodle. In fact we hardly see him. 
But the first man we see on the screen is not Gorgeous George, but the enigmatic and often spacey Ryan Gosling, an actor that has turned the slippery science of sociopathology into a dramatic art form. He is often seen in shadow and as Morris's fledgling manager Stephen, Gosling creates a sad wolf-like  Macbeth. With his pale slinky looks and his askew-eyed smile, Gosling always manages to make the quality of desperation into something debonair. There is a bit of the fish in him. You can think of Stephen and many of his roles as urban eels. Whatever wardrobe Gosling is wearing always seems to transform into a sharkskin suit under his blank stare. Gosling's eerie, confronting role counteracts Clooney's five o'clock shadow smugness and Gosling's  performance is spaced-out and sparkling, some of the best work that he has ever done.
The frosty leather-gloved Stephen gets a call from his rival, Tom Duffy, played by Paul Giamatti with his usual bug-eyed amphetamine grace. Duffy wants Stephen to quit the Morris camp and join the other side. Giamatti is facile and devilishly downbeat, an eye-popping political Lucifer, waddling about in his spoiler's paradise of news screens and cigarette smoke. Giamatti doesn't fill big shoes but his cloven-minded congeniality doesn't disappoint.
Everybody is out for blood here. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays a manic but ultimately dissipated mentor Paul. Hoffman is cynical and savage, doughy and deliberate and just what you expect.
We also see Marisa Tomei as a Times reporter who uses her compulsive badgering and appeal to get any story she wants.
Every character is authentic with depth, functioning like parts of a well oiled machine in this Shakespearean-slivered story of the dog eat dog office realm. But it is Gosling himself who carries the engine core of the story, giving the existential edge to a situation that is both selfish and lethal to the political ego. First Stephen is a squirming cypher and then a sneaky underhanded politico, but he is always razor-eyed and ravenous. If at first he is Kafka, he then becomes Caligula, he doesn't transform as much as blanch. He curls into a media-eyed Dracula of daylight who consistently makes selfishness entertaining. 
The Ides of March may not carry the weight of The Bard but it has a haunt and circumstance that stays with you. The eeriness that you experience in watching will linger longer than any Halloween fright and better yet, you will ponder the film's shadows. 

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