The Ides of March


The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling tries to remember his line.

(2011) Political Drama (Columbia) Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella, Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell, Charlie Rose. Directed by George Clooney

Politics make strange bedfellows for just about anything. Few human endeavors employ more of the worst elements of human nature while trying to appeal to the best. It is a machine that chews up and spits out those who don’t have the stomach for being an absolute prick.

Stephen Meyers (Gosling) hasn’t been chewed up or spit out – and he’s as good a media relations specialist as there is in the business. He’s been on plenty of campaigns in his time but none have captured him like the Presidential campaign of Democratic hopeful Mike Morris (Clooney), governor of the great state of Pennsylvania.

They are in the midst of the Ohio primaries and coming down to the wire. The Democratic nomination hangs in the balance and so far, Morris is leading Senator Pullman (Mantell) by a slight margin. Morris’ campaign manager Paul Zara (Hoffman) is romancing Senator Thompson (Wright) who has over three hundred delegates that will all but assure the nomination. Reporter Ida Horowicz (Tomei) is leaning on Stephen for a story but he doesn’t have one to give her – yet.

Then Stephen gets a phone call from Tom Duffy (Giamatti), the campaign manager for Pullman. Duffy wants Stephen to jump ship and even lets him know that Pullman has Thompson in his camp after promising Thompson the secretary of state position in the new administration. Furthermore, Duffy is trying to get Republicans and Independents to vote for Pullman in the open primary election since the general political trend is that the Republicans have a better chance against Pullman than they do against Morris.

Stephen is distraught but he chooses not to tell Paul at first. When he does, the crap hits the fan. Suddenly the campaign is in the middle of a dogfight and they might not necessarily be the stronger dog in the fight. An attractive young campaign worker, Molly Stearns (Wood) who is also the daughter of the bulldog-like Democratic National Committee chairman (Itzin) may prove to be the key that will either save Morris’ presidential chances – or destroy them.

Clooney, who has several really fine directing jobs under his belt, adds another one here. Based on the stage play “Farragut North” by Beau Wilimon (which in itself was loosely based on the author’s experiences in the 2004 campaign of Howard Dean), the movie has a sense of realism. All the dirty tricks, all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, that fits in with the perception of most people as to what really goes on in a major campaign.

Gosling has had quite a year with appearances in Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love and giving fine performances in both. He is to my mind a star who has shown potential for years (he already has one Oscar nomination under his belt) and has finally arrived as a legitimate star. He hasn’t shown any desire to headline a big franchise-type film, preferring lesser-budgeted dramas and comedies to ply his trade in, but I don’t doubt he could do that and just as well as anybody.

Hoffman and Giamatti are two of the best actors in the business and they play disparate sides of the same coin; one a shark, willing to do anything to win and the other valuing loyalty above all else maybe to his own detriment. Clooney has a supporting role here (as he did in Good Night and Good Luck) but it’s a memorable one. Like Martin Sheen’s Josiah Bartlett, one wishes there was a candidate out there like Mike Morris. Clooney brings him to life and, surprisingly, gives him a bit of a dark side.

While I found the character a bit more naive than you’d think a media relations manager in a major presidential campaign would be, my main beef with the film is the pacing seems a bit lax. The movie unfolds in an almost nonchalant manner which can be frustrating at times.

There are those who are going to have problems with The Ides of March because those who might have conservative political beliefs may find the depiction of the Democrats as disturbing, even though they are shown to be corrupt in the end. There are others who are going to be a bit put off as well because this is a pretty smart motion picture which requires at least a little bit of intellectual commitment. Those looking to lose themselves in a mindless haze are probably better served to look elsewhere.

REASONS TO GO: Nice thinking person’s political drama with a good sense of realism as to how the political process works. Terrific performances by the ensemble.

REASONS TO STAY: Unfolds at a rather slow pace. Might require too much thought for some. Although it does portray the liberal Democrats as corrupt, Conservatives might not like this either.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of violence, some terror, a little sensuality and briefly some bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the campaign office are posters of Governor Morris that are much like the iconic Hope posters for the Obama campaign created by street artist Shepard Fairey. In fact, the original photo that the Obama posters were based on were of Obama listening to George Clooney speak at a 2006 press conference.

HOME OR THEATER: You won’t lose anything by waiting for it to come out on home video.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Saw VI

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Formosa Betrayed


Formosa Betrayed

James Van Der Beek goes in guns blazing.

(2009) Political Drama (Screen Media) James Van Der Beek, Wendy Crewson, Tzi Ma, Will Tiao, John Heard, Tom Jay, Chelcie Ross, Leslie Hope, Kenneth Tsang, Adam Wang, Mintita Wattanakul, Joseph Anthony Foronda, Tonray Ho. Directed by Adam Kane

Most people are woefully uninformed. For the most part, it’s simply because we don’t want to be but even if we did we rarely get much truth from either the media or our governments. The way things appear to be are often not the way they are.

It all starts with what appeared to be a robbery gone bad. Professor Henry Wen (Foronda) is shot and killed by what appear to be ordinary carjackers. However, things begin to go sideways. The police discover that Wen was an outspoken opponent of the current regime in Taiwan (this movie takes place during the Reagan administration, by the way). The suspected killers appear to be Taiwanese nationals. The FBI is called in and Agent Jake Kelly (Van Der Beek) is assigned to the case. When the suspects flee to Taiwan, Kelly is sent after them – but as an observer, not a participant. The actual capture of the killers is left to the Taiwanese police.

This much is made clear by the starchy Susan Kane (Crewson), a liaison from the State Department. Kelly is immediately thrown into a curious charade that simply extrudes intrigue. He is sent to parties celebrating his arrival; the police are remarkably uncooperative when it comes to letting him in on any real investigation. Kelly begins to suspect that something is rotten in Formosa.

Kelly is contacted by friends of the late professor; Ming (Tiao) takes him on something of a tour of Taiwan’s underbelly, where the face of democracy is replaced by a corrupt military dictatorship. Ruthless and repressive, it soon becomes evident that the murder of the professor was in all likelihood ordered by the Taiwanese government. This is not good news; it would be a diplomatic nightmare if word got out that a United States citizen (Wen was of Taiwanese descent but was a citizen of the U.S.) had been murdered by a foreign government, particularly one we didn’t recognize.

I am pulled in different directions by this movie. On the one hand, it is about something that is not reported on often in the United States. For that reason, I admire the film’s content. However, the execution leaves much to be desired. The setting is done as a standard thriller with many of the clichés of the genre, with car chases, shadowy figures, shoot-outs and lantern-jawed heroes.

Van Der Beek, who is best-known as Dawson Leary from TV’s “Dawson’s Creek” is actually more than satisfactory in the FBI agent role. He gets across the character’s competency as well as his idealism while remaining a professional demeanor. It seems to me that an actual FBI agent in a similar situation would act with the same demeanor as Van Der Beek’s Jake would; however, his actions going all cowboy on the Taiwanese does seem a bit far-fetched, although it’s the kind of thing that gets forgiven in other movies with traditional action heroes in them. Crewson does a pretty good job as the diplomat who starts out by the book but ends up sympathetic. Heard is also a good fit as Van Der Beek’s superior.

I suppose because the subject matter was so compelling I wanted the rest of the movie to match up to it, and simply put, the writing seems a little bit formulaic to me. The actors try to work through it and do at least decent jobs in roles that are pretty much by-the-numbers, but the movie is rescued by a compelling story that is at least partially based on actual events, which makes the movie even more fascinating in my eyes.

WHY RENT THIS: Casts some light on events not well reported in this country.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Unfortunately, makes the setting a rather poorly executed potbroiler.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of violence, some of it unexpected and jarring. There is also a torture scene that some may find disturbing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was released on DVD in Taiwan on November 10 and proceeded to set records for single-day and single-week sales in Taiwan.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $326,034 on an unreported production budget; the film probably lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Fighter