No heroes, no villains, just real human beings - and what could be scarier?9/10
Corruption is such a nasty word. It is universally steeped in negative connotation, and is a term applied theoretically to a selfish, unjust misuse of power. Yet, realistically, this evil becomes hard to determine, and many attempts at justification can be made using alternate terms, such as "motivated" or "single-minded". Many of the best social dramas have explored this ambiguous area: in House of Sand and Fog (2003) an unfairly biased policeman was put to work, for once, for the supposed sympathetic protagonist, but we still didn't find it excusable; more recently, in the fiercely intense Contagion, the top doctor leaked confidential information in order to place his wife's chances of survival above the others in this case, we can understand his position, but the injustice at hand here is still undeniable.
It is very unfortunate in society that the places where corruption is most prevalent are those in which justice and citizenship is supposed to be the absolute goal. Contagion and other similar films expose this in the medical industry, films like L.A Confidential (1997) in the police force, and now George Clooney, as both writer and director, has brought us another razor-sharp political drama that reveals how cutthroat and sinister working in the government can be, even if creating a "free world" is purportedly the overall goal.
Ryan Gosling portrays another robust yet ultimately inadequate young businessman attempting to excel in a challenging line of work. In Fracture (2007) it was the legal system, where, again, his character, Willy Beachum, faced this same temptation when his partners urged him to falsify evidence in order to put away a fiend that they knew to be guilty, yet could find no proof against. Willy resisted admirably, but Stephen Meyers, his more competent yet far less righteous character in The Ides of March, has rather weak moral resolve. He is the talented and favoured staffer of presidential candidate Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), a man whose political philosophies he genuinely supports, and is very anxious to see become president. However, Morris is a man who sticks firmly to his principles and is unwilling to make a strategic compromise. It is an insistence that frustrates Stephen, and indeed his entire team as they see guaranteed victory is within their grasp if he only concedes to endorse the slightly disagreeable Senator Thompson (although neither Jeffrey Wright nor Clooney exactly make it clear what it is that Morris dislikes about him). It is a case of breaking a few eggs to make a good cake, and as Morris continues refusing to do so, pressures mount, the opposition begins to gain the upper hand, and a highly riveting series of complications arises.
Audiences will be happy to hear that they will not have to sit through a ridiculous amount of dry, technical passages of dialogue, sift through needlessly enigmatic storytelling methods and poke and prod their way through murky themes in order to find value in the film. The broader ideas are not all it has to offer, but lie over the top of the solid story foundations to be properly examined upon the reflection that takes place after viewing, as they should. This piece also works as a slickly entertaining, enthralling crime thriller. For while the intricate world of politics can arguably be likened to a game of chess, as it is in the film, the pieces are not stone figures, they are real people whose entire lives become ruined when they are captured by the opposing side/ Seeing as beyond the point of the Senator Thompson dilemma, the plot involves a string of juicy surprises, I shouldn't really reveal much more. All I will say is that Paul Giamati, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei all give exceptional performances as the key figures involved, and that each of their characters, and at one stage or another, harbours a deadly secret.
Clooney's direction is remarkably apt, particularly in a wordless scene in which Hoffman's character is given aggravating news from Morris inside his car, and we become cheeky onlookers from the outside, not even seeing their faces. He has also done well adapting beau Willimon's play Farrugat North with the help of Oscar-nominated screenplay writer Grant Henslov (Good Night, and Good Luck) and the playwright himself. His performance as Morris is fine work also, but, for the common audience at least, the film really belongs to Gosling, who proves once again that he is more than just an exceptionally handsome teen idol, but the most convincing and versatile young actor since Johnny Depp, with Max Minghella (The Social Network) and Jennifer Ehle topping things off beautifully as part of the supporting cast.