By Mike Smith
There’s something about getting emotionally connected to the candidate in a political thriller that always leaves me a little sad at the end. No matter who it is. Willie Stark (played brilliantly by Broderick Crawford and, in the 2006 remake, by Sean Penn) in “All the Kings Men,” Bill McKay (Robert Redford) in “The Candidate” or even Jack Stanton (John Travolta as a slightly veiled Bill Clinton) in “Primary Colors”…they always turn out to be human. You can now add to the above list the name of Mike Morris.
As the Ohio Democratic Primary approaches, there are clearly only two men with a chance to win. The one we’re following is Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). Well spoken and charismatic, he has made a believer out of junior campaign director Stephen Myers. Not only does he like Morris’ ideas, he thinks of him as a friend. “Would you rather work for a friend or work for the president,” he’s asked. In his mind, Stephen is doing both. However, as is often the case, the so-called “perfect” candidate is anything but.
Based on the “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon and adapted for the screen by Willimon, Clooney and Grant Heslov, “The Ides of March” smartly signals to filmgoers that “serious” movie time has arrived. With a perfect cast…the first five actors on screen have a combined eleven Oscar nominations for acting and three Academy Awards…the film is an unabashed look at the prices those who run for public office must pay. No matter how noble ones ideas are, they will always be forgotten and replaced by the next noble idea. As campaign upon campaign begin to take their toll on those involved, it’s up to Stephen to decide whether or not he backs the candidate who runs on “INTEGRITY” but sadly doesn’t know what it is.
As I noted, the cast is outstanding, with Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright joining those highlighted earlier. Gosling, who I felt was mis-cast in “Drive,” is well cast here, as is Evan Rachel Wood, an intern helping work the campaign. Clooney has a slight role, really, with the majority of screen time being devoted to those behind the scenes. Director Clooney’s decision to shoot a majority of the film in close ups pays big dividends. With nothing else to take away your attention, you are focused on every word…every nuance…every hint of false flattery or earnest appreciation. A previous Oscar nominee for directing “Good Night and Good Luck,” Clooney could easily find himself on the short list this coming year.
George Clooney and producing partner Grant Heslov talk through the informative and entertaining commentary; there’s also two worthwhile featurettes – one on Clooney as a director, the other on the film’s cast- to dig into.