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Movies Review

'The Ides of March' review - London Film Festival 2011

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Released on Thursday, Oct 27 2011

The Ides of March


A charismatic politician, his dedicated PR man and a pretty intern: the story feels familiar, not least because we've seen such characters laid bare in real life, in newspapers and the television news.

However, George Clooney, working both in front and behind the camera (directing from a recent play by Beau Willimon), goes beyond politics - sexual and governmental - to craft a loss-of-innocence tale that generates real surprise, in part because Ryan Gosling - who takes center stage as his hotshot press man Stephen Meyers - can move so deftly between light and darkness.

As soon as the 30-year-old announces his total and unwavering belief in the integrity of his candidate, Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), it's obvious that he's headed for disillusionment. Marisa Tomei warns him as much in one of her rare, gritty roles as a sidling journalist. Her mighty pen is drawn in the final leg of a race that pits Morris against a fellow Democrat for the party's presidential nomination.

Initially, the contest seems to hinge on the endorsement of a single congressman in Ohio who Morris refuses to deal with, purely on a difference of ideals. That refusal to bend, an apparent willingness to fall on his sword (because "society is more important than the individual") and his sheer movie star magnetism has Stephen in thrall.

Alas, while Stephen is watching the polls, Morris has his eye on the ladies. A neat moment backstage of the campaign sees the otherwise dignified Governor flirting with a make-up girl to hint at this weakness, and with creepy effect. On the flipside of that coin, Stephen is caught eyeballing the TV news while nuzzling a breathless Evan Rachel Wood.

As interns go, her 20-year-old Molly is rather too willing to please, creating potentially explosive problems for the campaign, compounded by the fact that daddy is a figurehead for the party. Wood plays it aggressive at first, only to become the biggest victim of the piece. She too buys into the theory that society is more important than the individual, resigning herself to take the fall in a scandal that looks set to break.

Everyone in the film changes face, but the process is more carefully measured with Stephen. He's a thinker and he comes to regret it, first when invited to defect by the rival campaign manager (a slouchy yet forceful Paul Giamatti). A moment's hesitation is enough to get him fired by his own boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman echoing his mad dog turn in Charlie Wilson's War), setting the wheels in motion for a morality thriller that gradually builds speed and finally pins you to your seat.

The dilemmas Stephen is faced with are boiled down a little too extremely and his vanity isn't teased out enough to justify his growing moral ambiguity. But Gosling sucks you into his nightmare with a pure feeling of heartbreak. His final turn to camera also leaves a chilling sense that with all the dirt kicked up in the fight for change, so much is bound to stay the same.


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