October 25, 2016
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George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” is a “tense” political drama – AWARDS ALLEY


By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: After Lynne Ramsay’s agitating “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” I was hoping for something a little more upbeat and inspiring … something that didn’t make me want to crawl up into the fetal position and cry.

George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” provided the right antidote. It morphs Beau Willimon’s play “Farragut North” into a tense political drama blessed with the hand-wringing intrigue of a top-shelf John Grisham novel.

Much like with his Oscar-nominated “Good Night, and Good Luck,” Clooney has assembled a stellar cast, handing the key role over to Ryan Gosling. He plays Stephen, a whiz-kid campaign manager adept at putting out mild fires for Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), the current frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket. But during a key primary stop in the state of Ohio, those tiny flames grow into a full-blown blaze of corruption, deceit and betrayal … and all Stephen holds is a squirt gun.


“Ides” does for behind-the-scenes political campaigning what “Good Night” did for broadcast journalism. It operates in a world most of us recognize but aren’t too familiar with, and it turns that environment on its ear. It’s appropriate that close friends Clooney and Brad Pitt have “Ides” and “Moneyball” in theaters at the same time, because the latter is as interested in the backdoor muckraking of presidential campaigns as the latter is in assembling a World Series contender. They’re more insightful for what powerbrokers do behind the curtain — the final scene in Clooney’s “Ides” hammers that point home — than what they do in the spotlight.

Clooney’s picture doesn’t crackle with the pitter-patter energies of a “West Wing” episode. The twists are telegraphed, but no less gut wrenching. And Clooney has the patience to trust his powerful cast to deliver when it matters. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti each get proper monologues, and Evan Rachel Wood holds the key to the film’s largest twist.

I’ll have a full review up on the site, but wanted quickly to touch on the film’s Oscar chances for the benefit of our Awards Alley readers. Screenplay seems like a safe bet, with Willimon and Grant Heslov tag-teaming their adaptation. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael’s shoots a handful of stirring, patriotic scenes. Once “Ides” gets going, the suspense tosses larger logs onto Clooney’s fire, and the cast responds in kind.

While the cast is uniformly great and a Picture/Director combo is completely possible (Clooney is beloved, and rightfully so), the filmmaker could find himself in a similar situation to what he faced in 2006, where he won an Oscar for “Syriana” and was content with nominations for his own picture, “Good Night.” Even if “Ides” scores nominations, Clooney’s so good in Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” that it will be hard for him to beat … well, himself.


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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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