The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Is The Ides of March as good as The West Wing?

with 15 comments

Whatever I know about American politics, I’ve learned from The West Wing.

I was a dedicated follower for years. I cherished every witty exchange in the corridors, I secretly imagined myself in the place of C.J. I got goose bumps and my eyes flooded with national pride whenever President Bartlet decided to made one his Big Speeches, and for a moment I forgot completely that I’m not an American Citizen. If someone had asked me to sign up as a campaign volunteer, I would have agreed in an eye blink.

Admittedly the US election system is still a bit of a mystery to me, with its intricate labyrinth of nominations and voting in several steps. But this doesn’t prevent me from feeling oddly at home in movies that take place in that political environment. After all the time I’ve spent stalking the imagined administration in the White House, I’m as good as a staff member myself.

For good and for bad The West Wing has left an imprint on me that I can’t completely disregard of, even if I should in the name of fairness. Any other effort to depicture political campaign making from a behind-the-curtains point of view will inevitably be compared to it. Is the dialogue as entertaining, are the strategy makers as cunning, are the ethical dilemmas as engaging, do I care enough to want to be a part of that world? Can they convey the struggle to balance ideals with the harsh reality in an interesting way?

The most recent candidate to be matched against The West Wing was George Clooney’s political thriller The Ides of March. This is a coming-of-age story about the assisting manager in the campaign for a Democratic candidate in the primary election inOhio. As the game between the opposing camps gets dirtier and his position is put at stake, we see him transform from a fairly idealistic (although not flawless) good guy into a shark.

So how well does it make in a comparison?

Well, as of actors I have very little to complain about. The line-up is great. George Clooney is no Bartlet, but he does have an aura that fits well for a coming president. Paul Giamotti and Philip Seymour Hoffman are fine in their roles as sharp fanged veteran campaign leaders.

The leading character is played by Ryan Gosling. Yes, that guy – again. The thing with him is that he’s at his best when he’s given the opportunity to remain silent, talking with his eyes rather than delivering regular lines. He was perfect for Drive. This role doesn’t suit him quite as well, but he’s doing fine. However I can’t help fearing that we’ll see a backlash eventually if he keeps appearing in movies at this rate. As much as I’m a Gosling fan, variation is nice.

But good actors isn’t enough to make it one of my favourite movies for this year. While it’s pretty polished and elegant on the whole, there’s something in the plot that doesn’t convince me.

I can’t talk about it in detail without giving away spoilers, but for instance I was a bit wondering at the event that initiates the whole story: Gosling meeting up with a campaign worker from the opposite team. Would that really be such a big deal?

I also had some issues with the pacing. I’m probably too influenced by the West Wing pace, but it felt really slow to begin with. And then when the action finally starts for real, with its twist and turns, it’s a firework that misfires and everything takes off at the same time. There’s very little room to fully understand what happened or to dwell on what it meant to Gosling’s character – what motivated him to act the way he did and what he thought and felt about the whole thing.

I loved the ending: open for interpretation, the camera resting on Gosling’s face as he’s walking through shadow and light. That shot is also what I’ll bring with me from this movie and which eventually bumped it up from a 3 to a 4 in my rating.

As for the initial question: yes, even the conversation is far from as entertaining, it’s probably on par with one of the best double episodes of The West Wing. But it sure doesn’t beat it.

The Ides of March (George Clooney, US, 2011) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

November 24, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in The Ides of March

15 Responses

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  1. Have you seen “Primary Colors”? Most political types seem to think that the movie and the book it is based on are the most accurate depictions of what an American campaign is like without watching a documentary (if you want a documentary then go watch “The War Room”).

    Haven’t seen “Ides”, yet. Looks like one of those movies that would work just as well, if not better, on the small screen at home. Should be out of DVD before too much longer.


    November 24, 2011 at 3:30 am

    • Nope I haven’t seen it. And yes, I think you wouldn’t miss that much waiting for it to come on DVD. The cinematography isn’t spectacular.


      November 24, 2011 at 7:52 am

  2. The story sure does sound a lot like Primary Colors, with the exception that that protagonist does not turn into a shark himself. I you haven’t seen it, I warmly recommend it. I also concur with the suspicion that we might get pretty tired of Mr Gosling if he keeps this up.


    November 24, 2011 at 6:17 am

    • I AM a Gosling fan but it feels a little bit weird right now. In the last month I’ve seen him in three movies on the screen.


      November 24, 2011 at 7:55 am

  3. I liked this one quite a bit when I saw it. I agree on how we may have too much Gosling (OMG I cannot believe I would ever say that), but surely we must feel the same about Fassbender, who has also had a breakout year?

    I am glad it got a good score too Jessica

    Scott Lawlor

    November 24, 2011 at 11:54 am

    • Yes, Fassbinder is everwhere as well it seems, but he’s got a more anonymous appearance I think, which makes it less apparent than Ryan Gosling. But both could probably need a vacation.


      November 24, 2011 at 5:00 pm

  4. You had me at “the West Wing”…


    November 25, 2011 at 12:52 am

    • I rewatched some episodes, joining my daughter who has fallen in love with the series. It still holds up.


      November 25, 2011 at 7:35 am

  5. You had me at The West Wing as well. I’m currently watching it for the first time. Started season four yesterday and it really holds up. Probably the best tv show I’ve ever seen.


    November 25, 2011 at 11:15 am

  6. I watched IDES again today. Second time. I like it a lot. As a insider into politics I don’t know that it is that revelatory, but as a drama I think it woks great. The performances are all strong (and I think this is Gosling’s best work – though he was great in Drive) and the film has this polished feel to it. I was impressed, and think it is really watchable. The twists come about unexpectedly (at least to me) and the script has great heated exchanged between it’s cast (being based on a play is certainly an influence on the dialogue) and I think the behind-the-scenes corruption and scandal, that seems to remain hush hush, makes for compelling entertainment.

    Andrew Buckle

    November 25, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    • I think you’re a little bit more enthusiastic than I am, but I agree that it’s polished and entertaining. And yes, I could probably watch it a second time on TV/DVD to catch whatever I might have missed the first time. It’s that kind of movie.


      November 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm

  7. I really did like the west wing up until 9/11 then the serie took a turn i didn´t like. Ides of march didn´t show at in my city instead the have Tintin on three screens 😦 So I´ll have to wait.


    November 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm

  8. […] The Ides of March – while it probably doesn’t beat West Wing, it had an ambiguous ending that I liked […]

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