Venice Film Festival Screening: The Ides of March

The Italians love George Clooney, the Hollywood heart-throb who bought a villa on Lake Como and who gets a marriage proposal practically every time he gives a press conference at the Venice Film Festival. So Clooney's latest directorial outing, the vivid political thriller The Ides of March, was an obvious choice to open the prestigious event on the Lido last week.

The film boasts a fine cast, including man of the moment Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, and Clooney himself. The problem, however, is that The Ides of March is so deadly serious, and so seriously downbeat, that it immediately made me worry what was to come later in the festival.

Set during the last lap of a presidential primary in Ohio, Clooney's fourth film as director (he also had a hand in the writing) presents an utterly jaded and cynical insider tale of political power games, personal ambition, loyalty, betrayal, sex and spin, that feels at once timeless and contemporary. If you, like Tomei's journalist, believe that all politicians are destined to disappoint, then you won't be disappointed.

It is certainly what Gosling's idealistic press spokesman discovers, as the Obama-like governor he puts his hope in for a better, brighter future for America turns out not to be quite the man he thought he was.

The film touches on the issue of private and public morality, and whether we should expect our politicians always to practise in private what they preach in public. Is there an argument for putting the greater good first when a politician slips up? Is it possible, in these times of round-the-clock news and the internet, to keep a sense of perspective about such matters? And would the fall-out from the Clinton-Lewinsky affair have been different if Americans were more relaxed about their leaders' sexual peccadilloes?

These thoughts came to mind as all around Clooney's apparently decent governor, people vie for a little piece of power, sit in judgement, or, in Gosling's case, shift from idealism to pragmatism.

Taut, intelligently written and grippingly acted, The Ides of March may not have been the most cheerful film to open the festival with, but it provided a satisfying curtain-raiser. 


Originally published in The Scotsman

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