"Nothing bad happens when you're doing the right thing." That's just one of the lines in George Clooney's new political thriller The Ides of March that tells audiences exactly how dark this writer/director is willing go in a film about the presidential campaign trail.
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The story begins as idealistically as it could in America, in Ohio – the place where anyone's dreams can come true as long as you believe in them strongly enough.
Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, an up-and-coming campaign advisor for Governor Mike Morris, played by George Clooney. Gosling's character is good at his job. He takes no flak from reporters and he knows how to spin his candidate's ideals in a way that the public will know the truth – that we've come to change this country for the better of the people, no matter what it takes.
Hard work plus good values. That's something to believe in, right? Gosling's character seems to think so. And he believes his candidate embodies this belief system and much more. This is his first mistake. Believing too much in the good deeds of others. As Gosling's character begins to notice how corrupt the system actually is, the walls start closing in and soon, he doesn't know who is on his side.
But that brings the question, what is fair in politics? Who should you be able to trust and why? If you have a good idea on how to run the country, does it matter what you have to do to get in power? Do your ethics about social welfare and your strategy on how to get ahead have to be aligned? Some would think so, but that's not what we see in this film.
Enter a troupe of Shakespearean actors – the best cinema has to offer. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the governor's campaign manager. An actor with amazing range -- from dramas like Moneyball, Capote and Doubt to comedies like Along Came Polly -- Hoffman is pure Hoffman in this role. He is surprisingly subtle, disgruntled and a little edgy, but in the end, the one guy who you feel you might be able to trust.
Paul Giamatti plays the opponent's campaign manager. He's sneaky, wise and a little too smart for his own good, but when his character makes a point, you'll notice audience members nodding their heads.
So, what's the goal, besides forming alliances only to discover they've been severed behind in your back? Get your guy into the White House. That's all anyone in this movie wants. To be associated with the winner, because if you are, your life will be forever made.
The film was co-written and directed by Clooney in what looks like an attempt to return the emotional tone of his acclaimed drama Good Night, and Good Luck, the story of famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow and his battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards but failed to take home any statues.
Marisa Tomei plays the needling reporter who controls as much as she underestimates. She's likable in a way that twists the plot so the audience starts to wonder if her freedom of press might be part of the corruption.
Evan Rachel Wood plays the fresh-faced intern who has no idea what she's dealing with and that's a good thing for the ever-changing point of view in this film. The chemistry between Wood and Gosling sizzles, making the outcome much harder to take.
The actors in this film are so likable and so well loved it's hard to believe their characters would do anything evil. That's the genius of the casting.
Gosling typically plays the bad boy as he did in Drive, or the cast off as he did in Lars and the Real Girl or the junkie in Half Nelson. Here, he is innocent, naive and so very real. Who amongst us hasn't felt we wanted the world to be a better place?
Cold, sparse and set in the urban Midwest, The Ides of March takes the audience to one of the last true battlegrounds in America's politics. Ohio is a farmland with industry, lots of people and cities. It's a pivotal chess piece in any presidential election because it has no political loyalty. It's the perfect location for betrayal on a campaign trail.
The only question you have to answer when you get there is who can you trust?
Bottom line: Well-written, superbly acted and surprisingly suspenseful, The Ides of March is a political thriller you won't want to turn your back on.
Photos courtesy: Sony Pictures Entertainment
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