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Originality Found Lacking in Ides

  • Jeffrey Huston Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2011 10 Oct
  • COMMENTS
Originality Found Lacking in <i>Ides</i>

DVD Release Date: January 17, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: October 7, 2011
Rating: R (for pervasive language and some sexual content)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 101 min.
Director: George Clooney
Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin

A new George Clooney film always demands attention, not simply due to his global fame but because both as an actor and director he continues to make very intriguing artistic choices, even risks. From populist entertainment to provocative indies, Clooney makes films he believes in.

His latest multi-hyphenate acting/writing/producing/directing passion project is The Ides of March, a political thriller that lands squarely in the middle of that “populist/provocative” scale. It’s a polished but undistinguished Oscar hopeful, one where the execution of the material is first-rate but the script itself—while fine—plays like a "Greatest Hits of Political Parables." It’s done well, but we’ve seen all this before.

Young idealistic staffer Steven Myers (Ryan Gosling, Drive)—on a hot-ticket presidential campaign—begins to see the underbelly of sleazy politics, backroom deals, sexual indiscretions, blah blah blah. Said idealistic staffer gets in over his head as he faces the moral struggle of integrity verses reality, more blah blah blah. Not that these elements aren’t relevant or true to varying degrees, but The Ides of March has nothing new to say nor found a new way to say it.

That lack of originality creates occasional desperation from time to time as Clooney (Up in the Air) tries to elevate the anxiety of some scenarios that simply don’t warrant the drama. A secret meeting between two staffers of the opposing campaigns is played up as more risky than it really seems, and the subsequent threat of it being leaked to the press never carries the “bombshell” weight it strives for. It may not be ethical or even smart, but it’s not terribly shocking either.

Other scenes are imagined more according to heightened genre tropes than how they’d actually play out in real life. A clandestine encounter on a cold riverside bench overlooking the city is one; this meet-up between a campaign staffer and senator is staged like a covert intelligence exchange when, in reality, it could’ve been done over lunch or even by just a phone call. 

In another scene the firing of a staffer occurs in a dark alley and the presidential candidate himself is lying in wait to drop the ax; couldn’t (and wouldn’t) this just have happened in an office? What’s with all the cloak-and-dagger secrecy? It’s a firing, not a mafia hit. Clooney’s filmmaking, accomplished though it may be, begins to strain too hard as it tries to make up for the script’s lack of import.

The plot pendulum does swing, though, from the (unintentionally) low-stakes stuff to overt melodrama—specifically, the inevitable sexual liaisons. Evan Rachel Wood (Whatever Works) plays Molly, a twenty-year-old intern who seduces Gosling’s Myers and then complicates things for him and the campaign to scandalous degrees when her other extra-curricular activities are discovered. That she has more screen time than Clooney’s candidate speaks to how this is really about the peripheral players in politics who get swept up in the wake of things.

Myers does his best at damage control, taking him on a journey from his lofty ideals to compromise, then betrayal, and finally hardball power plays. He initially makes bad choices with good intentions that, over time, evolve to corrupt (even criminal) gambles with intentions that are consciously, coldly cutthroat. Will he be a victim of the system, become a master of it, or are the two basically one in the same?

The narrative and thematic escalation of the film’s final hour definitely improves upon an interesting but mostly-toothless first-half. The screws turn, friends and colleagues are pitted against each other, and all the players are formidable. It’s still nothing more than political pulp fiction but, to apply literary terms to cinematic form, The Ides of March becomes quite the page-turner.

Clooney’s stylistic vision nearly makes up for what the script often lacks. For one, it’s refreshing to see a new political movie not try to copy Aaron Sorkin’s (The West Wing, The Social Network) rapid-fire dialogue or self-important air, as many do. Instead, Clooney’s inspirations are the quiter but unnerving slow-burns of the mid-‘70s (All The President’s Men, The Candidate, etc.). It’s unfortunate then that the screenplay doesn’t have the depth to match Clooney’s directorial heft.

The cast is uniformly impressive, Gosling especially. His screen presence is as magnetic as it is natural; it’s a brooding charisma. He wisely doesn’t overplay a sense of naivete early on (even as he sells his passionate idealism), which helps make him believable as someone to be reckoned with as events spiral. Wood is a nuanced femme fatale, both confident and vulnerable. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Moneyball) and Paul Giamatti (Win Win) bring different shades of spin-doctoring to the dueling campaign managers. Both are compelling but Giamatti more so as he’s the one guy who seems to have found an ethical code within dirty politics. As the candidate, Clooney remains in a supporting role that’s more like a glorified extended cameo. Nevertheless, he saves one of the film’s juicest confrontations for himself—and delivers.

The Ides of March certainly gets better as it goes, crescendoing to a final moment that will leave people talking (and half of them frustrated). It’s a good movie but, like so many candidates running for office, not quite as good as it hopes to be.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Alcohol consumed (no drunkeness). A drug overdose occurs, but the taking of drugs is not depicted (just suggested). A few instances of smoking.
  • Language/Profanity: S-words and f-words are used regularly throughout (on a couple of occasions, the f-word is used in the sexual context). The a-word is said a couple of times, and one instance of taking Christ’s name in vain. The “t” word for breasts is used.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: A couple of sex scenes, but not explicit. Scenes are shot in close-up of kissing as sex is implied and simulated out of frame (no nudity). Other moments of lying in bed together. Flirtatious and sexually-charged dialogue occurs between Myers and Molly.
  • Violence/Other: None.