“I’m YELLING because of a SCANDAL!”
“I’m yelling BACK because YOU are yelling and the scandal is BS!”
“I’m crying because everyone around me is yelling and the world that I know is deteriorating.”
That’s pretty much how the TV spots advertise George Clooney‘s new film The Ides of March, making it look like your yearly typical awards bait. It’s better than that.
Despite trying to resist temptation, assistant campaign manager Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) takes a phone call from rival Democrat campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). This makes his supervisor Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) unmercifully fire him from the campaign of boss, Governor and Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Morris’ (Clooney).
Hoffman, by the way is an alumnus of this kind of movie and I would have it any other way. This, by the way, is based on the play “Farragut North.” The Ides of March is a more dramatic title but the original feels more right, showing that businessmen like Stephen and Paul control and groom the politicians who are supposedly running a country.
Clooney as a director always hints on style but never fully delivers mostly because they echo previous decades, this film particularly relying on political and urban paranoia from the sixties and seventies. Stephen’s silhouette stains a large, draped American flag, symbolic of him partially desecrating American politics. A scene when he makes a call through a pay phone, noticing a man taking a photograph in his direction. Or another when Paul enters Mike’s SUV and the camera stays outside for a minute or so. Other earlier and better films have tackled these images but they’re still competently unsettling today.
The film’s number of flaws seemingly grow when I think about them – the most minor and crass one being that night with Stephen is so sensual that his new lover, intern/daughter of the DNC Chairman/teenager Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) looks like she just got out of the salon the morning after. And that she as well as Mike are Catholics west of Boston, those characters by the way going against the doctrine more than twice. Anyway, it biggest yet easily refuted flaw is Stephen’s supposedly unshakable morality. Throughout the film, he says that he doesn’t have play dirty anymore because he has Morris or that he believes “in the cause.” He also boasts that at thirty years of age, he has worked more campaigns than anyone ten years his senior so why would he make such a rookie mistake? But then again, lesser scandals have disgraced older politicians.
Anyway, he recites his words about Morris like a mantra that’s learned as opposed to felt. And he’s not as much the idealist that he wishes. In the first scene, we get to know a bit about Stephen. He mockingly rehearses for his boss’ speech (‘Don’t vote for me if I’m not tall enough. Don’t vote for me.’) and refers to the latter as a hobbit – God forbid, he found a flaw within George Clooney! From then on, I can imagine the audience realizing that it would be a waste of emotion to sympathize with him. He does a lot of slimy things especially when his affair with Molly gets out of hand. His career in jeopardy, he does desperate things to keep his career afloat, in turn harming the people he’s supposed to worship or love.
His eyes look like an angered anime character in the film’s final scenes and I’m probably not alone in saying that his expressions are just like that of the Driver. Which means that yes, we can joke that the similarities between the two characters mean that Gosling’s comic turn in Crazy, Stupid Love is him stretching. The problem with ubiquity like Gosling’s is that we can see the same mannerisms in different films but at least his tics are less distracting than the actor who is supposed to play his role – Leonardo di Caprio. Gosling is the film’s pivot, capably bringing across the arc that his interesting character takes. 3.5/5
Ladies and gentlemen, ignore the indie feel of the trailer. Thanks to Juno, high school sports are quirky now. Nonetheless, let me introduce to you the first great movie of 2011.
Win Win has the same bare bones story as director Tom McCarthy’s earlier film The Visitor, when one person finds another on his doorstep. But this film’s more organic. McCarthy shows us the colourful characters within lawyer Mike Flaherty’s (Paul Giamatti) Garden State life. His daughter’s first word to the camera is ‘shit,’ his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) is an upstanding citizen with surprises. He also coaches an incompetent high school wrestling team with his wacky colleagues (Jeffrey Tambor, Bobby Cannavale). This film’s visitor Kyle Timmons (Alex Shaffer) becomes the star of Mike’s wrestling team. The film can extract humour from banality especially with Kyle’s deadpan delivery. He says ‘Night, Jackie’ bringing laughs, and I wonder why other movies have to try so hard to be funny. The film’s first act is interesting enough on its own. I also feel as if with or without Kyle, this fictional Jersey’s continuum – its characters constantly in a quest for self-improvement, its middle class standing constantly threatened – would feel the same.
Thankfully, this movie also doesn’t have The Visitor‘s self-righteousness. Both Mike and Kyle’s mom Cindy (Melanie Lynskey) are neither portrayed as good nor evil, as both want financial rewards for being the guardian of Mike’s client who is also Cindy’s father. Lynskey is a contender in an insanely strong cast, agonizing about her Cindy’s father disinheriting her while tiptoeing between evil, manipulative daughter and disgruntled child, convincing Kyle of Mike’s deceit, saying the word ‘court’ with a perfect welfare-class inflection. It’s lovely to see someone as consistently good as her.
Cannavale, filling in the shoes of a showy, comic relief role, as his character Terry Delfino is the last person to join Mike as a wrestling coach. He transforms from Will’s barky boyfriend in “Will and Grace” and speaks with clarity and great timing, making himself the MVP of this film. From trying to keep Mike warm by climbing on top of him, telling Mike’s daughter not to get married to egging Kyle on as the latter confronts the former. a safer would movie would shut him up even in dramatic moments, but he doesn’t. McCarthy not trying to manipulate the film’s mood and tone, Terry’s presence adding to the film’s glowing naturalism.
Had the film ended one scene earlier, it would have felt too much like a back sell. Thankfully, it shows the Flaherty’s lives back to normal but living with compromises that always come with win-win situations. 4.5/5
Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti) has a second Mrs. Panofsky (Minnie Driver). She’s a Rebecca reference – an unnamed second wife considerably worse in reputation than Barney’s duplicitous first. And of course, I love her. While Barney brings up a guest, Miriam (Rosamund Pike), she replies, ‘She subscribes to The Economist but buys Vogue off the stands.’ I gotta use that one of these days.
Naturally, he ends up marrying Miriam, who’s more bland but less psychotic. Good call, Barney. At 7 tonight,The Toronto Reference Library is gonna ‘preview’ of Barney’s Version, shakily adapted from Mordecai Richler‘s swan song. Geoff Pevere is talk about the author, book and movie. Thanks for the heads up, NOW Magazine!