3 December 2011

THE IDES OF MARCH - (Dir. George Clooney, 2011, US)

George Clooney has been steadily building up an impressive body of political work and The Ides of March certainly continues a personal interest with exploring the limitations of liberal/leftist ideology in a climate of pervasive conservatism. If Good Night, and Good Luck was about communism and the media, Syriana examined international terrorism and Michael Clayton was a convincing dissection of corporate hegemony, then The Ides of March takes its aim squarely at the complex ethics of the American political system. It is well known that Clooney is generally well liked and respected by his peers in Hollywood and it is not surprising that he manages yet again to bring together a terrific ensemble cast including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Jeffrey Wright. The central idea of a presidential candidate hoping to make it to the Whitehouse on the basis of winning the primary elections is nothing new to American cinema and especially mainstream television. In many ways, American cinema over the last twenty years has produced a body of work that is primarily interested with the machinations of the American political system. Notable films have included Warren Beatty’s Bullworth, Mike Nichol’s Primary Colors, and Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog. One can even go back further to cite influential films like Redford’s The Candidate. Although Clooney continues to be compared to Redford in terms of a like minded liberal outlook and socially engaged films, I’m not so sure if Redford’s films are as ideologically engaged. Clooney has certainly used his star status as a platform to campaign on a range of issues and although Hollywood film stars and their long relationship with political causes has been questioned routinely by the media for its pretentiousness, Clooney has been able to translate his personal political interests into much of his cinematic output. At the centre of the narrative to The Ides of March is Stephen Meyers, a junior campaign manager, played brilliantly by actor Ryan Gosling. Meyers becomes caught up in a dirty political conflict between the Democratic and Republican parties. One of the major problems with many films about the American political system is that they can be somewhat inert and therefore should belong on the small screen. I’m not arguing that The Ides of March would have been more appropriate for a television audience, but the film seems much more concerned with making a wider political point than trying to do something innovative or different with the elements of film. Although Clooney is a film star and important producer, he is not a great film maker and works much more effectively as a catalyst for film projects. Nevertheless, this is still a superior political thriller given the prescient tone it strikes about the hypocrisy at the heart of democratic society.

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