feedingbrett’s review published on Letterboxd:
I have seen films on the presidents and they are in abundance, but I rarely see a film focusing on the electoral campaign. Maybe I'm just ignorant of the films that do revolve around this concept. The Ides of March was the first I have seen that touches this, and Clooney has done a wonderful job with it.
The Ides of March is based on a play entitled "Farragut North" written by Beau Willimon, and adapted to the screen by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Willimon. What the writers have created is a suspenseful political drama that shows exactly what politics is. It is a dirty and hard profession and the people in it will do what they can in order to get ahead of their opponents. The writers explore the ideas of loyalty, revenge and integrity, and wrapping it up with a gripping story. The film is essentially a road of how an idealistic and honest man becomes corrupt and dirty just like the rest of them. What I found fascinating was that the film didn't take the traditional political genre route by having most of the film's emphasis be on the figure running for office, instead putting all of it's weight on this young man with a career that the general public doesn't even really think about. The writers wanted to show us that it is hard, to nearly impossible, to be truly honest and respectful in an environment that doesn't share these values, because the only way to get ahead is to play rough, ensuring that we are able to have something that will keep us in the game, even if it would hurt the players in our own team. I have always found the topic of politics interesting, but my knowledge of it is quite ignorant, particularly American politics. It was hard for me to fully understand the inner workings of the campaign and the importance of gaining the votes of the citizens in Ohio, because the film doesn't want to be an educational piece about it, instead it places all of it's focus on the journey and integrity of the film's protagonist, therefore leaving me a bit blank. Though gladly, the more I watch the film, the easier it becomes to understand the structure and function of the campaign and what they must do in order to win. The film's story always kept me guessing, never really knowing how the film would turn out in the end, which is rare in contemporary mainstream films. I think politics is a subject that doesn't appeal to everyone but this film offers enough intrigue and suspense, that it doesn't really matter if you fully understand the politics or not. The film's dialogue was astounding, with back and forth banter between characters, talking about topics that I never really thought were all that important during an election and detailing the strategies and methods they would do to win the race, without it feeling very forced. Overall, the writers created something gripping, holding my interest and attention all the way through.
The film was directed by George Clooney, and this would be the first time I have watched something he has directed. Clooney is mostly known as an actor but this film proves he can also be a great director. It may not be the perfect political film I have ever seen but it is certainly better than most. Clooney took such a big and ambitious topic and made it feel small and intimate. The film rarely shows the ripples of the complication falling outside of the established environment, and Clooney doesn't need to because he wants our attention to be solely on the problem and it's impact on the protagonist. I think Clooney was really fascinated with the play's subject because the film doesn't rush itself to conclude. Instead, it takes it's time in getting to the complication and spend time, for at least 45 minutes, in introducing it's characters and their motives, and building up plot for the second half of the film. When the complication does finally come, then Clooney starts to shift the tone to more of a revenge story, which was really exciting and takes a much more faster pace. Others may see the film's lack of ambition and spectacle be a flaw but Clooney makes up for it with strong performances from his actors and emphasising on it's ideas rather than just simply thrilling it's audience.
The film's director of photography was Phedon Papamichael, who is known to collaborate with directors like Alexander Payne and James Mangold. What he has done for this film was pretty average. It didn't feel like it was doing more than just capturing the story. Though, along with Clooney's wonderful direction, he was able to create that aura of tension and suspense, particularly in the second half of the film. The characters in this film are so interesting and have layers to them that would have been more clear and defined if it was conveyed by the film's photography. Papamichael understood that Clooney wanted this film to feel cramped and intimate, with most of the film consisting of medium-close up shots as the film relies on the actor's performance to drive the film, particularly on the first half of the film. Papamichael's photography here wasn't a total disaster but it could have been better.
Alexandre Desplat is the film's composer and what he has done for this film is great. The score takes the sounds that are commonly found in a political films and makes it his own. It was very rare that I found his score to feel overpowering or cheesy, and this is maybe due to the timing of his score and always hitting the right notes, making certain scenes feel more impactful. His work for The Ides of March isn't his best but one cannot deny on how effective it is.
The film contains a stellar cast with big names like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, and of course George Clooney. All of the film's weight falls under Gosling, as he plays the film's protagonist and the film's plot revolves around him. Gosling isn't the greatest of actors, but he also isn't the worst big name actor I have ever seen. He just needs a little bit of work in order to improve his range, as he doesn't display a lot of it in this film. If there was something I could really commend him with, it would be his chemistry with other actors. When he is with these other actors, it just comes off as easy, filled with little moments that makes his multiple relationships with other actors believable, particularly between him and Wood or him and Hoffman. Hoffman and Giamatti were also fantastic in this film, giving each of their roles a time to shine, even if it doesn't last very long. Wood was also great but it never seem to reach to a point of praise. Tomei, Wright and Clooney were great in their roles as usual but their screen time is much less than the others, leading to a less impactful performance.
The Ides of March is a film that convinced me that Clooney was a great director, and it has made me look forward into exploring others from his filmography. The film has it's flaws but it's great script and smart direction keeps this from being just another throwaway political drama.