George Clooney’s The Ides of March is exactly what you’d expect from Clooney (as a filmmaker) at this point. It’s smart, smooth, well cast and put together. If there’s a modest hesitation, it’s that it’s a very small movie, and perhaps one that has delusions of profundity. Ryan Gosling stars as a campaign manager for one of the leading presidential contenders (Clooney). But to get the nomination, Gosling finds that he’s embroiled in double crossing by friends and foes alike. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood and Jeffery Wright co-star in the film, and our review of The Ides of March on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, a George Stephanopoulos-type campaign manager who’s one of the youngest people in his position. He works under Paul Zara (Hoffman), and they’re in a tough battle to win Ohio. They need the win to close the election, and the only other alternative is to give Senator Thompson (Wright) what he wants, which is Secretary of State. But Clooney’s Governor Mike Morris doesn’t want to compromise his cabin that much. Two things change Meyers’s playing field: he has a meeting with the opposition’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Giamatti), and begins a sexual relationship with Molly Stearns (Wood). Meyer thinks the meeting with Duffy is nothing, and only tells Zara after the fact, which then blows up in his face. And as his relationship with Molly continues, he learns a devastating secret about the man he’s working for.
Gosling rightly plays the film as something of an intelligent blank. He knows the moves but he doesn’t show his cards, and that’s good when you’re playing against this level of all-stars. He’s in virtually every scene, and when you’re playing against this cast, and Marisa Tomei’s reporter character, you’ve got hold your own. That’s where the film really sings.
But if there’s a problem with the film, it’s that it doesn’t really show how brilliant Meyers is at his job. For much of the film we see him get outmaneuvered, and it would have been nice had there been that extra layer for the character. As it stands, the film is more about his process of learning that to get to a certain level of politics your hands are going to get very, very dirty. This works against the film a little bit, because it’s hard to believe that Meyers could get to the position he’s in without having had more first-hand experience of that, and why the ending – which is set up to be one of those home run moments – falls much shorter than intended.
From all accounts, Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov fixed a lot of problems in the original play, and it’s the sort of film that there’s nothing wrong with it; it’s pleasant. But with the recent Oscar nominations, you can see that the movie didn’t click to the level it could have if it was truly great. This is the sort of film that would be a leading contender, could have been. That may work to the film’s advantage, as now it’s slightly underrated. Clooney as a director knows pacing, and works very well with actors, though his eye is more functional than penetrative. And when you’re watching a movie with good to great performances from this cast, it’s hard to be all that disappointed.
The Ides of March comes to Blu-ray in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 master audio. This is meant to be a small film, so the soundtrack isn’t outrageous, but Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography is well represented here. Extras include a commentary by Clooney and co-writer/producer Grant Heslov that’s charming and Clooney wants to make jokes whenever things get too serious. Then there’s the featurettes “Developing the Campaign: The Origins of The Ides of March” (7 min.), which follows the evolution of how the play Farragut North turned into this film. “Believe: George Clooney” (6 min.) has the cast talking about their director, while “On The Campaign: The Cast of The Ides of March” (6 min.) gives the film’s all-stars a good buffing. “What Does a Political Consultant Do?” (7 min.) is probably the best of the bunch because it gets into some of the film’s meat. Bonus trailers are also included.