(Updated 8/31/2011 – 12:30PM CT)
The opening night entry for the 2011 Venice Film Festival also happens to be one of the more hotly anticipated movies of the Fall – George Clooney’s return to directing The Ides of March. In his latest film Clooney offers up a political drama that is somewhat in the vein of his 2005 hit Good Night, and Good Luck. The film centers on Stephen Myers, a hot shot political strategist working for presidential candidate Jack Morris (George Clooney). Stephen competes with campaign veteran Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to become Morris’ right-hand man until he intercepts a phone call while on a rendezvous with a teenage campaign staffer (Evan Rachel Wood). Stephen now has to choose whether he is still on Morris’s side or if he is going to choose to join Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) and another campaign.
The film just finished its world premiere screening at the Venice Film Festival and early reactions are trickling in. There is certainly no consensus at this early stage, but the word seems to be mixed leaning towards the positive.
Xan Brooks of The Guardian posts the first review and gives the film 3 out of 5 stars. He calls it an interesting behind the curtain look at Democratic campaign strategy that might be too commercial to fit in with the rest of the Fall movie offerings:
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.
Oliver Lyttleton of The Playlist says the film is referential of both prior U.S. elections and classic political films and television shows. In talking about the performances he says the older actors aren’t given much to do while both Ryan Gosling and Evan Rachel Wood shine:
Evan Rachel Wood follows a terrific turn in “Mildred Pierce” with another great one here. The actress isn’t often allowed to be likable on screen, but she’s enormously sympathetic here, fragile and naive and fiercely intelligent without ignoring the certain star-struck tendencies that you might expect from a young woman so close to the circus. Her chemistry with Gosling is electric, although at this point we suspect Gosling would have chemistry with a plank of wood. Or January Jones.
Gosling, incidentally, caps off an extraordinary twelve months with another top turn. It really is his show, the film’s riffing on idealism really a feint for a picture about the loss of a soul. Maybe it happens a little fast, but, like Michael Corleone, Stephen is defeated by the business, a virtual robot at the end. We say virtual, because Gosling’s chilly surface still reveals a hint of the regret that will clearly haunt the character forever.
Andrea Pasquettin of WhatCulture! is similarly lukewarm about the film, although she does give it 4 out of 5 stars. She says it is very timely and probably won’t retain relevance beyond the current decade, and like previous reviewers she also gives props to Director of Photography Phedon Papamichael:
Clooney’s film isn’t quite the classic we had hoped it would be and it’s not as strong an effort as Good Night Good Luck but it’s a timely film, mirroring America’s disappointment of Obama and his broken promises as he is about to embark on his re-election campaign. The film is oddly cinematic for a political film and director of photography Phedon Papamichael makes use of the symbolism of an election campaign for some wonderful imagery. Though one surprising element is the lack of things to do for the supporting players. Hoffman & Giamatti aren’t the major players in the movie you might expect and Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright are barely in the thing and you wonder why they even bothered to star in this. In the leading stakes, Ryan Gosling caps off a great year and could be a contender in the Awards stake.
David Gritten of The Telegraph agrees with other reviewers that Gosling in the starring role is the highlight of the film:
Still, despite Clooney’s multi-tasking presence, Gosling takes the on-screen honours. There is a stillness and certainty about his acting, a commanding ability to convey complex emotions in the flicker of an eye. No surprise, then, that he is currently Hollywood’s most sought after young lead.
Guy Lodge of In Contention writes an insightful review that criticizes the film for being naive and disingenuous among other things. He generally likes the film, but finds it much too safe considering the material Clooney was handed:
What we get instead is an absorbing, occasionally witty liberal suit-opera on “West Wing” lines that nonetheless holds its juiciest sub-plots on a leash. The storyline handed ensemble standout Evan Rachel Wood, lithe, snappy and eventually affecting as a bright young intern whose attraction to Gosling unwittingly jeopardizes all three principals’ careers, is initially the most promising of these, holding interesting implications about the longer ladder still reserved for women in politics — until the character is dropped in a datedly dismissive fashion that renders her entire arc a mere device. It’s not the only respect in which Clooney and Heslov’s script resembles a highbrow Hollywood screed from the 1940s updated with some token references to the Drudge Report era. (For one thing, the film’s view of the media is decidedly quaint: Tomei appears to be the last surviving political journalist in the United States, while the internet is something people use to arrange booty calls.)
Deborah Young of The Hollywood Reporter writes a review that features more synopsis than analysis, but she does take time to appreciate the fantastic ensemble cast:
Still the fine cast makes every line of dialogue count, like the memorable final exchange between Paul and Stephen outside a churchyard, as their lives take different paths. Jeffrey Wright’s brief appearance as an influential senator able to swing the election is an example of perfect straight-faced gravitas, while Marisa Tomei’s crafty Times reporter is delightfully smart and underhanded. Even Wood, for all her sexual incorrectness, evokes sympathy when she gets into major trouble.
Stay tuned for more reviews throughout the run of the Venice Film Festival.
Unless the other films that are slated to play the festival circuit turn out to be major flops, it appears that The Ides of March will not be a Best Picture or Director contender and that Ryan Gosling’s Best Actor hopes might instead lie in Drive. The film might see some love for Director of Photography Phedon Papamichael, but it sounds like The Ides of March may simply be a solid political drama and nothing that will greatly affect the 2011 cinematic landscape.