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Movie review: The Ides of March

Oct 072011
 
 By , October 7, 2011

“The Ides of March” | a film review by Gary Chew

A far better writer than I has already spread the news, or in this case, the message, that one takes away from George Clooney’s new film, “The Ides of March.” The line would be, “All the world’s a stage.” I would add only that if you subscribe to Mr. Clooney messaging, those wielding or seeking power, especially elective office, trod those boards more than all other mortals.

No, not any kind of revelation. And not much different from what Robert Redford said in “The Candidate,” or Gore Vidal in his play and the subsequent film, “The Best Man.”

Since “The Ides of March” presents a fictional account of an Ohio presidential primary scheduled for a calendar date that proved to be, in ancient Rome, a bad hair day for Julius Caesar, Republicans will be happy to know that “The Ides of March” is just about Democrats. The screenwriters (Clooney and Grant Heslov) and the originating playwright (Beau Willimon) perceive the Party of the People as being quite adroit at betrayal.

Evan Rachel Wood and Ryan Gosling

But a quick cautionary note for conservative politicians and those who vote for them: the values homilies sprinkled across the arc of this excellent film (spoken through the characters Ryan Gosling and George Clooney inhabit) make Democrats seem like kindergartners in misrepresentation, when compared to their distinguished colleagues across the aisle.

Something about the narrative in a moment after an obligatory discussion of the cast.

It may be the best damned cast ever assembled in a contemporary American film. Only thing: Meryl Streep isn’t in it. But there is a character in it who looks like Ms. Streep and does her brief appearance as I think Streep might have. Her name is Jennifer Ehle. She plays Cindy, the wife of the Governor running for the presidency.

The rest of the cast I list by actor, the character he/she does and a thumbnail of how each role plays in the complex story:

  • Ryan Gosling: Stephen – 2nd banana in the Morris campaign
  • George Clooney: Ohio Governor Morris, a liberal Democrat
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman: Paul – Morris’ campaign manager
  • Paul Giamatti: Tom – Morris’ primary opponent’s campaign manager
  • Evan Rachel Wood: Molly – daughter of the DNC chairman
  • Marisa Tomei: Ida – perspicacious reporter for “The Times”
  • Jeffrey Wright: US Senator Thompson from North Carolina
  • Gregory Itzin: Chairman of the Democratic National Committee

Ryan Gosling and Marisa Tomei

An asterisk should also be placed next to Itzin’s name for the brief, but powerfully moving speech his character gives at the two-thirds mark.

There just isn’t a bad actor in the bunch. Anyone who’s ever seen any of these artists in their best films knows that. It’s an across-the-board great delivery from all. And Ryan Gosling can be so convincing when he brings on his empty, gaunt, existential stare that focuses on nothing.

Real TV newsies who show up briefly, or the sound of their voice is heard are: Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, John King and Charlie Rose. Less liberal or progressive persons, attached to other media, are Matt Drudge and Sean Hannity. Roll Call is also mentioned.

Studying the character list just given might tip you off as to how pieces shift on the chess board while the film moves closer to the middle of March. And it reveals who gets the last laugh — if anyone who does such things, as portrayed in the film, could ever laugh again, without faking it. Ryan Gosling’s facial expression just mentioned sums that up.

Original music for “The Ides of March,” to these music-lover ears, is exquisite. Alexandre Desplay wrote and orchestrated much of it as well. The London Symphony Orchestra performs it.

As the Dennis song ends, little did I know that one of the principal characters who appears later in “The Ides of March” would make me think the song’s closing phrase, “Excuse me, while I disappear,” should be given…but before those words can be spoken, the film fades to black.

Opens wide October 7.

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.
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