Ides of Fashion

(c) 2011 by Metta Anderson

It was a spur of the moment decision. Karen asked Linda and me if we’d like to see a movie last Sunday evening. She called around 5 for a movie that began at 7 and we’d meet at the cineplex. She wanted to see “Moneyball” with Brad Pitt, of whom I am not a fan, so we decided that she and Linda would see that and I could see something else.

Guess what? There isn’t too much for grown-ups on Sunday evening, but there was the new George Clooney movie, “The Ides of March,” at 7:30, and that looked promising. I’d seen Clooney’s film on Edward R. Murrow (“Good Night, and Good Luck”) at the same theater in 2006, and liked it, so, why not? Clooney makes a kind of European film, re-tooled for younger American audiences with interesting results.

“The Ides of March” is almost a political thriller. It is about politics, but more along the lines of “Syriana,” and Jeffery Wright is in both.  No doubt that’s confusing. In “Syriana,”  Wright is a lawyer working for an oil company and has few lines. His biggest scenes involve arguments with his screen father. In “The Ides of March,” he’s a senator from a state which can bring in enough delegates to swing the presidential candidacy toward Clooney’s Gov. Morris and therefore–it is implied–the presidency of the United States itself. (No wonder there are so many snake oil salesmen in politics!) Again, Wright has few scenes, and his biggest one is at the end, when he addresses a crowd with a noticeable old-time-religion, Southern revivalist accent. This may be a subtle commentary by Clooney (co-writer, co-producer, director and star) about the shams used in campaigns, and it probably is, but it struck me as slightly obvious–the well-educated African-American man having to play Uncle Tom for the umpteenth-zillionth time, as if this schtick has never been done before. I sigh and contemplate popcorn kernels.

The plot is not exactly new either:  Hotshot up-and-comer played by Ryan Gosling stabs and sleeps his way to the top, his eye clearly on succeeding Clooney’s character’s political path.

And it works.

Gosling is sympathetic. Kind of. But Seymour Philip Hoffman, who starts off sleazy and ends with some fragile dignity, is more so. One or two very secondary characters in the hands of another writer and/or director would be fleshed out more, which would have added some necessary tension in some areas of the plot. Overall, though, this is Ryan Gosling’s film and he does very, very well. He isn’t particularly likeable by the end, but the moviegoer certainly does understand him a little better.

But here’s the point where Clooney’s film differs a great deal from the European ones which have influenced him. Women and sex.

Men are men and men sleep with women. Older men are particularly fond of sleeping with younger women. DUH! (This is the European approach.)

Men are red-blooded, straightforward, straight arrows who only sleep with their wives, regardless of their age or the state of disintegration of their marriages. OH GET REAL!!!!!! (That’s the American approach.)

And this is where the movie falls apart for me. The slightly amoral daughter of a very high-ranking Democratic politician sleeps with TWO (not just one) Mr. Wrongs, and pays the consequence, big time. This is ’50s morality which discounts the intellectual and emotional autonomy of women altogether. (And, George, just for the record–pregnancy, pills and depression do not always work together. But, you’re a guy. How do you know these things? You and Gunny Highway must read the same magazines.)

And then, when we get to the end, we’re facing the French existential attitude that prompted the California beach response, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.” Again, DUH!

I do appreciate Clooney’s desire to blend European (especially French) concepts into an American genre (political thriller). It produces an interesting film. I thought the cinematography contributed a great deal to conveying the feeling of claustrophobia that pervades a political campaign’s internal environment. The film’s pacing and overall dialogue was coherent as well.

But I also think that Clooney has to realize that, even with an existentially-oriented film, which is a visual (not written) story, the bad guys have to lose. Somehow, they just can not be allowed to walk away as winners, however fleeting the win might be. Second, even in a tightly-done film such as this one (barely over an hour in length), secondary and terciary characters do deserve a little more screen time, not because they’re members of the Actors’ Union, but because one or two carefully-worded lines can add depth and interpretation to the story.

“The Ides of March” is a student film, and the student is gifted. He’s adventurous and open. But the movie is not a “mature work.” It’s part of an on-going process of artistic development and can be (should be?) enjoyed as such. It’s a small film, but worth the moviegoer’s time.

(c) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

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