At Tuesday night’s Ides of March (October 7) premiere at the Academy, George Clooney ran up to the front of the house in a dapper Italian grey suit and kept it short. Ryan Gosling had worked the red carpet and was gone, he said, and he’d talk to the rest of us at the party afterwards. So he did. On the way out of the theater, we walked down the stairs to the reception. He admitted that the Liberal politician he plays in the film says all the things he’d want his fantasy presidential candidate to say, and that he hoped it would have some impact on the coming election. He was informed by his father Nick’s failed 2004 run for Congress in Kentucky. Clooney, 50, while more politically conversant and active than most, has no interest in running for office. He loves directing. Having acted in so many TV shows and movies over the years, he said, at this point directing is much more fun for him than acting.
That’s ironic, because his performance in Alexander Payne’s dark comedy drama The Descendants, as the hapless father of two girls whose mother is hospitalized in a coma, is at the top of most Best Actor charts right now.
The Ides of March, which marks Clooney’s best directing to date (after Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck and Leatherheads) will be a much harder sell. Clooney and producing and writing partner Grant Heslov did a good job adapting Beau Willamon’s play Farragut North, adding some melodramatic elements to up the ante. Ryan Gosling carries the film as a slick smart campaign press secretary who has to navigate in shark-infested waters with the likes of his own boss, well-played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, rival campaigner Paul Giamatti, campaign reporter Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood, as an equally dangerous if more seductive barracuda. The movie’s dark message on the price of betrayal (see Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) will go down easy with any fan of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, but will leave cold anyone not interested in K Street politics.
So what are the Oscar chances here? Critics will have a major impact (here’s our early review round-up and Venice review); so far it’s scoring 81% fresh. The movie played at the premiere, which is like preaching to the choir; Academy voters’ liberal preferences will help with this film as they did with 2005 black-and-white period political drama Good Night, and Good Luck, which was nominated for six Oscars, scored 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed $54 million at the worldwide box office. The Ides of March shouldn’t look like a loser by the time year-end lists and Golden Globe and Guild nominations come around; clearly, it’s more of an actors’ showcase than a visual stunner.
Gosling ably carries the film, but he almost makes it look too easy. He was nominated for micro-indie Half Nelson but not for Blue Valentine; his strong recent reviews for Crazy Stupid Love and Drive could help to propel him into best actor contention. Clooney is strong in a supporting role as the candidate, but the showiest part by far is Hoffman, who nails one explosive scene with Gosling. Bennett Miller didn’t give his childhood friend (who won the Oscar for Capote) enough to do as manager Art Howe in Moneyball–that necessary killer scene is missing. So Hoffman may get the nod from Oscar voters for The Ides of March instead.
Kudos to Sony’s Amy Pascal for making The Ides of March. The studio has had a run lately of risky, out-of-the-box sophisticated ventures, from The Social Network and Moneyball to the upcoming Anonymous and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Hopefully audiences will reward them for taking these chances–so they’ll take more of them.
[Premiere photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.]