Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: The Ides of March

With a cast that includes Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, George Clooney, and current it-boy Ryan Gosling, it isn’t hard to figure out why the buzz for Clooney’s latest directorial effort was so positive.  But I have to go against the grain here and echo what Shakespeare (or not if you believe the nonsense in Emmerich’s forthcoming film) once wrote in Julius Caesar,  “beware the Ides of March.”  It may be the result of expectations, but I walked out of the film feeling completely unimpressed by the dumbing down of political machinations that may occur on the campaign trail.  The most egregious mistake Clooney makes as writer and director is that his film finishes with the message that politics leave its participants cynical and jaded – not exactly an earth-shattering revelation - when in fact it should start with this as a premise and then build out a compelling story.

In a lot of ways, the movie plays out like the Bill Clinton pseudo-biopic “Primary Colors” minus the camp, humor, and overacting.  In its place you get a robust helping of George Clooney’s much publicized political ideologies and as you watch him on screen you can’t help but feel like he is playing out his fantasy of running for office.   As for Gosling, he wilts as the lead of the film and firmly cements himself in the same category as Chris Evans and Ryan Reynolds as actors who excel at playing sharp-witted characters in comedic settings, but come off as drab and pedestrian in roles that demand more gravitas.  Case in point: can one believe that Gosling is a sharp political consultant jousting with grizzled veterans Giamatti and Hoffman?  Maybe.  But the important question is…should one even care?  The resounding answer is no.

Not even an ensemble littered with actors recognized by the Academy can save this film from becoming utterly mundane.  For the most part, all the players are solid within the context of what the source materials ask them to do – which is bring their respective B-games.  As you watch these fantastic actors spend far too little time onscreen as mere foils to advance Gosling’s plotline, one can’t help but wonder if the film would have been significantly better had the proceedings centered on someone else.  Surely the blend of paranoia and narcissism that marks Hoffman’s character could have made for a more riveting narrative, or watching Tomei’s journalist meddle and scour for the next headline could have made for better theater.  Ultimately though we are left to watch the least accomplished individual of the principle cast play the least compelling individual of the principle characters.  And that is where the film fails its audience.

This is not a film to be seen in the cinema, but it works as a midweek rental.  You’ll watch it; be moderately entertained for about half of the film, and when it is over shrug your shoulders, turn out the lights, and go to sleep all the while wondering if you missed something in the proceedings that made this film better.  This is probably the last Gosling movie I’ll watch for a while which is no easy fete since he has opted for Nicolas Cage cash grab and take on every film that comes across his plate.  

Notable Performance: Phillip Seymour Hoffman delivers a genuine performance and stands out in limited screen time.


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