Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella
Director: George Clooney
Runtime: 101 min.
Verdict: Thoroughly gripping. And one hell of an acting show.
Genre: Drama, Film Noir

        The general word is that this here is film is about loss of innocence, about Steven’s (Mr. Gosling), a young and bright Junior Campaign Manager, shift from the pink of idealism to the gray of realism, from being a patriot and a gentleman to being a manipulative asshole. Can one notice a general movement in the above sentence, a gradual shift that seeks to collect the blame from everyone around and land it on the protagonist? I hope your answer is yes, and I love indulging in a simultaneous critique of myself. The thing is, Mr. Clooney’s film serves as a, what can I say, a depressing antidote to his ’05 masterpiece Good Night, and Good Luck. It is not so much about Steven discovering lies and treachery and deceit in politics as much as it is about him discovering, or unleashing, those necessary (apparently) qualities lying dormant within. Coming from Daniel Ocean, whose team member gave us an adolescent and cheesy “Yes, we can”, I find The Ides of March strangely reassuring.
        The question though, in an expressively (read awesome) acted film as this, if Mr. Clooney sets the chain of events so as to justify (if not glorify) Steven’s actions, i.e. his vengeance, or should one read them as a condemnation, and hence a classic implication of the viewer’s own desires. (Aside: It might practically be impossible to not view Mr. Gosling as an incarnation of The Driver, and when he walks into Duffy’s (Mr. Giamatti) office late in the film, I couldn’t help myself from remembering the hammer.) The thing is, there’s a petite young lady who almost opens the film, offering, at least in hindsight, a narrative counterpoint to Stephen. She‘s the archetypical blonde bombshell, and she’s played by Ms. Rachel Wood, who seems to have the very demeanor that makes me entirely suspicious of her intentions. I might be out on a limb here, but she comes across as a, how do I say it, uhm, a manipulative bitch. In her glossy but pursed lips, through those cold eyes, there’s a certain silken smoothness that makes me instinctively wary. Hitchcock would’ve had a field day with her. She’s not all-out Marlene Dietrich or Tippi Hedren, and by God I would’ve had been comfortable with that. She plays Molly, a young intern in Mike Morris’ (Mr. Clooney) campaign, and when she brazenly “invites” Steven for drinks over to her hotel, one cannot help but wonder. I know I know, I’m aware of the orthodoxy in my arguments (remember I’m on a limb), that numerous actresses have been “out there”, and that includes Ms. Naomi Watts in Mother and Child. Yet that bouncy “cat-walk” and the confident smile (arrogance?) through which Mr. Clooney introduces her to us, and which eventually leads her to Steven’s door, both office and hotel, I perceive her as a threat. Makes me want to label her a schemer. Especially in the light of Mildred Pierce, and it is often tough to look at an actor past their previous role, and more so when they seem to intertwine. Ms. Wood’s facial features are very economic, very terse, and that probably reflects in the way we perceive people. Sizable features (big eyes, pouted lips, chubby cheeks) probably feel accessible. Oh boy, I don’t know if all this is speaking about me, or the film, or the way we draw a pattern, or if the film is drawing leverage out of it? I wish I were writing about a Martin Scorsese picture, I could comfortably shift the blame. Best to change the paragraph.
        In bed, Steven learns of her secret. It is one of those spectacular acting moments, with Mr. Gosling’s split wide open, and you want to applaud. We learn a little later she has been at somebody else’s “door” a while before, and that initiates, or highlights, a thematic parallel. There are hell of a lot of these parallels caused, both by way of screenplay and intercutting, to drive home the point – what goes around, comes around. The order is important, I suspect. When it goes first and comes back, that’s karma, when it comes first and goes back, it is justification. The trouble is, courtesy the film’s masterstroke, its central contrivance is both the cause and the effect, is both what “goes” and “comes”. Steven walks into his campaign office, sits in his cabin, and scans the breadth of the room. It’s shattering. His cabin suddenly becomes a manifestation of his inner disillusionment and the detachment that brings. In a film of several authorial masterstrokes, this finds Mr. Clooney at his classical best – a simple pan drenching what seems like objective reality with expressionism. One ought to be reminded of Martin Scorsese’s slow pans in Goodfellas, and here Mr. Clooney uses his to color the surroundings in a character’s inner turmoil. Morris belongs to the public, right at ease when surrounded by them, and when he gets a call on his phone late in the film, it is another master pan. Jaime N. Christley speaks of Mr. Clooney’s methods as that of pitting a conventional movie (Lumet) against an observational one, and this is where one derives a hell of a lot of pleasure from The Ides of March.
        The question, about the nature of the film’s manipulation, still remains, and if it is implicating us in the way some of those revenge films do. Or, is it about the frailty of our untested morality? Steven refuses the invitations of the opposing camp’s campaign manager Duffy, and yet walks first thing when the tide turns against him. There’s one Senator Thompson in the mix too, the plot throwing him for maintaining the flow of parallels. The thing is we all rationalize, and that’s how the conscience is assuaged, and that’s probably how a realist is born. It’s often a cliché in most films, but by stacking his characters one behind the other in a circle and asking them to pull the trigger, Mr. Clooney both implicates and absolves. The final moment finds us looking at Steven into his eyes, while words like “integrity” are heard in the background. As we zoom closer and closer, are those words fading away? As melodramatic as it sounds, are those words being heard from within him? Is the conflict still raging? When asked if he would run for office, Mr. Clooney says – “No. I've slept with too many women, I've done too many drugs, and I've been to too many parties.” I imagine if this here is an autobiography of sorts.


Amar said...

I liked some aspects of the movie. I could not entirely admire it as Ebert also correctly pointed out that there is nothing in the movie we are already not aware of.

I also have a doubt about the difference you had put between 'loss of innocence' and 'discovering/unleashing the dormant powers within'. I think there isn't much difference in them as far as the context of movie is concerned.

man in the iron mask said...

The difference is in the perception - loss of innocence often assumes and even shifts the blame to external sources thereby making the subject merely a passive receiver of "acceptable behavior".
Discovering is directed towards self, wherein one's loss of innocence is a compromise on one's own ideals and basically a reflection of how thin or how shallow that innocence was in the first place.