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Ides of March, The (Blu-ray Review)

13 Jan, 2012 By: John Latchem

Street 1/17/12
Sony Pictures
Box Office $40.96 million
$30.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive language.
Stars Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood.

Based on the play Farragut North, The Ides of March is a simmering drama about the harsh realities of high-stakes politics.

Ryan Gosling effectively carries the film as Stephen, a political consultant for a presidential candidate named Morris (George Clooney, also director and co-writer of the screenplay), who is locked in a tough primary battle. Stephen believes Morris is the real deal and is destined for great things, but the future is moot if he can’t get past a hard-nosed opponent and his Machiavellian campaign manager (Paul Giamatti).

On the eve of the Ohio primary, the opposition tries to poach Stephen, who starts to learn Morris may not be as clean as he appears to be. Is Morris a real force for good, or is he just another scumbag politician seeking power? Stephen has to decide how much the ends justify the means, and how much of his soul is worth a victory.

So much of the film turns on the sheer hypocrisy of the characters that it makes it hard to care what really happens to anyone beyond the confines of a character study. Clooney’s methodical direction tells the story well, even as it occasionally veers into melodrama to loop back on itself. Clooney also borrows the concept of the final shot from another movie in which he starred, Up in the Air, where it was a bit more effective. The end result is a film that is good in the moment but that probably won’t have much lasting impact.

The script pays some lip-service to a few political ideas to establish atmosphere (Morris is a Democrat partisan), but a lot of these scenes come off as either heavy-handed or simplistic since there’s no attempt to let the debate play out. How much viewers end up liking the film may depend on their own politics. But the point of the film is not its politics, so that rift may be the most fascinating aspect of the film, since it will affect how viewers perceive the events as they happen while ultimately being led to the same basic conclusion about just how incompatible politics and principles may be.

The Blu-ray includes a featurette about political consultants, featurettes about developing the script and casting the film, and a decent commentary with Clooney and collaborator Grant Heslov.

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