May 24, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 13 October 2011 14:14
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help parents choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film from George Clooney, The Ides of March.If real politics were as entertaining as the reel conflicts in George Clooney’s The Ides of March we might find it less painful to listen to candidates’ babble. In 101 crisp minutes, the savvy director/writer/star Clooney signals everything wrong with our political system today, from personal agendas to public vendettas to media manipulation. And he does it with the finesse and flourish of a moviemaker at his peak.
On screen, Clooney plays the almost-too-smooth presidential candidate who always looks good, sounds right and appears sincere. Whether or not this fictional politician actually believes his words is incidental; he portrays his public role with command. Supporting the candidate from the sidelines is a political pro (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who professes the meaning of loyalty and an idealistic neophyte (Ryan Gosling) who quickly learns the art of selfish ambition. Together they collaborate to support the candidate; privately they suspect what the other may be trying to maneuver.
Working from a play by Beau Willimon, Clooney and his co-writers perfectly capture the frenetic energy of a presidential campaign without casting obvious heroes and villains. While the candidate searches for appetizing ways to sell his potentially controversial ideas, his staff members engage in the back-stabbing antics that define political films. Clooney, paying homage to such classics as The Best Man and The Candidate, lets us in on the dirty tricks that ambitious people play, never apologizing for what they do, and never hiding the warts that candidates try to mask.
While Clooney the director makes the film feel current by borrowing from recent campaign headlines, he never tries to make the proceedings feel too real. The natural theatricality of the piece — not surprising considering its stage origins — actually emphasizes the importance of the message. In this reel election, the needs of real people become much less important than the exaggerated agendas of those on the ballots and the handlers riding their coattails. Visually, Clooney gives the film a fresh view of familiar political proceedings, never resorting to the typical look we might expect in a political story on television or the big screen.
The performances are perfect. Ryan Gosling continues an impressive run of strong work as a young man who wants to believe in the greater good while easily succumbing to immediate gratification. The character’s transformation from young campaign worker to seasoned pro is beautifully modulated by an actor who always registers truth. Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in a colorful supporting portrayal distinctly different from his effective turn in Moneyball, Paul Giamatti has a few effective scenes as the opposing political operative, and Marisa Tomei brings fresh shading to the well-worn role of a tough newspaper reporter.
Films that offer such entertaining behind-the-scenes tours can motivate us to take real politics more seriously. Today, a new crop of candidates is promising to solve all the problems of the world without anyone having to sacrifice. We can only wonder where their ideas originate, who actually will benefit and what personal priorities drive their words and actions. The Ides of March reminds us that, as we hear the candidates promise, we need to carefully listen.
The Ides of March
* Content: High. At its core is a beautifully written exploration of how even the most sincere sounding of politicians can hide big secrets.
* Entertainment: High. Even with its serious content, The Ides of March is fabulous entertainment because Clooney knows just when to exaggerate the reel action.
* Message: High. This nutritious film motivates us to listen more closely to what’s behind the words we hear the candidates speak.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to discuss political realities with older children is welcome and needed.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, talk with your older children about the temptations that face people in politics who contend they serve the people they try to reach.
(The Ides of March is rated R for pervasive language. The film runs 110 minutes.)
4-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
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