[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] I [/dropcap] f you really want to hate George Clooney, this will help because he wrote, directed and stars in The Ides of March. The title allusion to Julius Caesar lacks subtlety, but is perfectly appropriate. This is a story of loyalty, deception and betrayal on the campaign trail.
Clooney is the candidate and Ryan Gosling is the young campaign press secretary who works for Philip Seymour Hoffman. The opponent’s campaign manager is Paul Giamatti. Gosling gets tossed into upheaval by Giamatti, who plays on his personal ambitions versus his candidate loyalty. That is the set-up for the whole conflict. It is well written and well orchestrated and we feel Gosling’s angst.
The Ides of March tosses in some sexual tension by Gosling enlisting innocent staffer Evan Rachel Wood and spurning the press advances of Marisa Tomei. Gosling rates sex WAY below power and advancement, so there’s one thing most of us can’t relate to. The other comes when Gosling succeeds in scraping his mistake off onto Philip Seymour Hoffman, who gets fired. PSH walks off and tosses back that it’s no big deal because he’s headed for K Street and a million dollar job…..and you know he hates losing his $100k job. A hedge fund guy would take the money and find a way to make the gig more powerful and not shed a tear over the loss, but, hey, this is politics, where momentary power is all-powerful.
Do you remember the 1974 Robert Redford movie. The Candidate? In that film the ending is more powerful than the rest of the film because Redford wins and says to his campaign manager….”now what?”. It reminds us that the journey has overtaken the destination. At the end of The Ides of March, Ryan Gosling, who has “won” stares at the camera for a long moment. It makes us wonder as Redford did…..whether there is any “there” there behind all the President’s men.
[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] 2 [/dropcap] 011 is shaping up as the year of movies about loss that combine the pain of the death of a someone close and somewhat offbeat humor. This was what 50/50 did so well without a death, and Funny People did less well (even WITH the same Seth Rogan as the straight man). As the Baby Boomers age, this is so much better in terms of teaching us how to cope and seeing the lighter side of life. Here is a land-rich, cash-poor family with a big decision that juxtaposes economic health with environmental health with physical health. The Descendants does this as well as any movie and does not leave us weeping uncontrollably (think Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias).
George Clooney plays such a real and likeable character who just muddles through with a high degree of compassion and very little ego….and yet so down-to-earth for the land baron that he is supposed to be. Indeed, the thing I liked best about this movie was that a very very wealthy man who could fly in a private jet and live a big life spends his time scrambling eggs for his daughters and skimming leaves out of the very modest suburban Oahu pool in his overgrown back yard. It is as though Occupy Wall Street was telling the director that we need some 1%ers who act like regular 99%ers.
We should not be surprised that this is so well done with Alexander Payne in the writer/director chair. The same reality, humor and humanity we saw in Sideways, Cedar Rapids and About Schmidt. Every one of these is about haves and have-nots in some way shape or form. That makes Payne a great chronicler of our economic conundrums. It is what will make The Descendants a very serious Oscar contender for best picture.
Shailene Woodley as the older daughter and Amara Miller as the younger daughter debut on the big screen very admirably….but what mentors they had! A bulked-up Nick Krause does a perfect job as the boyfriend who tags along and plays the Thomas Haden Church likeable idiot. Robert Forster as the girls’ grandfather and Beau Bridges as Cousin Hugh deserve credit for strong if minor roles.
The real hidden stars of The Descendants were the islands of Hawaii (Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii). Now this was no chamber of commerce view of Paradise, but rather a very drab and mundane view of the islands through the eyes of long-time, multi-generational Hawaii families that are part Haole and part Maoli. Hell, Payne makes Hawaii look dull and somehow makes a land trusteeship seem exciting front-page news. Now that takes talent.