So far Venice opener The Ides of March, George Clooney’s presidential campaign drama starring Clooney as the candidate and Ryan Gosling as his whippersnapper campaign press secretary, is scoring a favorable 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. Although there’s no consensus yet, it seems that Ides is in the running for Oscar contention. While many of the reviews sampled below praise the look of the film and the performers, some found the political take-home message heavy handed, immature, and obvious. That said, the Academy tends to embrace Liberal politics.
The Ides of March is set for a US release on October 7. Here’s the review round-up, beginning with our review from London-based TOH correspondent David Gritten:
Every performance is finely judged… As one might expect, Clooney brings all his natural, relaxed charm to the character of an assured, charismatic politician.
It explores themes of loyalty, ambition, and the gap between public ideals and private fallibility, engaging the brain while remaining constantly entertaining. The writing demonstrates real insider knowledge about the nuts and blots of political campaigns. Yet it’s worn lightly. Nothing here is more forbidding than any episode of The West Wing.
Justin Chang, Variety
Ho-hum insights into the corruption of American politics are treated like staggering revelations in The Ides of March… Working with Willimon and Good Night, and Good Luckwriting-producing partner Grant Heslov, Clooney has seized every opportunity to pepper the material with political in-jokes and references designed to make presumably left-leaning viewers chuckle and groan in self-recognition; the right wing, for its part, is clearly not one of the targeted quadrants here. Yet as it sneers at the inherent venality of politics and despairs over the gulf between stump-speech promises and meaningful political change, The Ides of March wallows in its own superiority to the point where its cynical pose looks almost naive.
David Calhoun, Time Out
Early on, there’s a pleasing backroom vibe as we witness the work of a campaign office, a ground-floor, downtown city space not dissimilar to the one in ‘Taxi Driver’. About halfway through, this brisk and breezy, fly-on-the-wall mood makes way for the tone of a shadowy thriller when a secret in Governor Morris’s personal life threatens to derail his campaign and puts press aide Stephen in a precarious position of power – a switch in atmosphere from which the film never fully recovers… For now, the deadly serious slapstick of In the Loop remains the benchmark for savage political portraiture.
Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter
Poised between politics and thriller, this morality tale from Clooney & Co. is illuminated by a terrific ensemble cast.
Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist
It can also be a difficult world to make truly cinematic, but Clooney makes it work here, thanks undoubtedly to DP Phedon Papamichael (Sideways), who gives a real chill to the Midwestern landscapes, and makes effective use of some Gordon Willis-esque silhouettes—although it should be said that the director overplays his “let’s frame the characters in front of the American flag” a little in places.
Xan Brooks, The Guardian
Perhaps it’s true that the public gets the films – and the politicians – it deserves. The Ides of March is tense and involving, a decent choice for the festival’s opening-night film. And if that vote seems a little grudging, that’s only because I can’t help feeling that there were surely wilder, more interesting contenders that fell by the wayside. What remains is your classic compromise candidate: a film that set out with a crusading zeal but had its rough edges planed down en route to the nomination.
Guy Lodge, In Contention
Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov aren’t exactly subtle about setting the virtuously loyal young man up for a fall: “I’m not naïve!” Gosling insists over a drink with Marisa Tomei’s justly sceptical Gray Lady political reporter. “I have drunk the Kool-Aid! I genuinely believe he [Morris] is the only one who can make a difference!” The dialogue couldn’t be more nakedly, plot-servingly ominous if a time-code appeared in a corner of the screen to count down the remaining minutes of the first act.
UPDATED: Reviews Added
Richard Corliss, Time
George Clooney for President!
Clooney knows as well as anyone that acting is politics; both depend on salesmanship, on letting the public think they have a clue to your personality. Clooney’s patented tic, in a movie or in an interview, comes in that microsecond before he answers a question, and his mouth betrays an emotion that might be ironic or exasperated, but instantly relaxes into the famously open, indulgent smile. That mannerism is on full display in The Ides of March, not just in Clooney’s performance but in Gosling’s as well.
Dave Karger, Entertainment Weekly
If you ask me, we now have the first sure-thing Best Picture nominee on our hands. A contemporary echo of Clooney’s multi-nominated 2005 drama Good Night, and Good Luck, Ideas — an inside look at a fictional presidential campaign — is smart, but not overly complicated; cynical, but not completely depressing; and timely, but not forced. Plus, it boasts top-flight acting from its entire cast, including Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood.
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