Thursday, October 26, 2017

Theory Thursday: "The Ides of March" is George Clooney's Best Movie

Scene from The Ides of March
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Suburbicon opens in theaters this Friday.
Theory; The Ides of March is George Clooney's best movie.

There's something odd to George Clooney as a celebrity. There's no doubt that he's a household name, but do his movies reflect this? It isn't like he's box office poison, but films like Tomorrowland reflect his limited mainstream appeal outside of few franchises like Ocean's 11. If anything, he is more of a stamp of approval when dealing with more mature films deeper political texts. He's an "adult" film star in the sense that he's best when dealing with tough subjects like in Michael Clayton, where he's forced to play dramatic roles with levity and stakes. It's interesting then to judge his directorial career from that lens, which is just as reflective of his skills in front of the camera. The more serious he is (Good Night and Good Luck), the better his movies end up being. The sillier (The Monuments Men, Leatherheads).

I'm not sure what many would consider to be the best of Clooney, but the release of Suburbicon has got me thinking of what he personally brings as an artist. I think he's a very charismatic actor who has an impeccable range on top of being a silver fox. I don't think he's perfect, but he has something that the movies sorely need sometimes. He is the actor who has a passionate heart, finding just causes to fight for while splitting that time with silly Coen Brothers movies. He also creates something that is provocative and engaging while reaching an audience that usually wouldn't be game for films with rich and mature themes. It's why I think that The Ides of March symbolizes everything that Clooney has brought to cinema in one of his greatest achievements. 

It's an odd thing to say, largely because nobody talks about The Ides of March quite as much as his other bigger movies. It's true that maybe his 2011 political thriller isn't the most universal movie on his roster. However, it has everything that one needs to properly judge Clooney's career. He has a supporting role as an actor, co-writer with frequent partner Grant Heslov, and as director. The vision is entirely his to explore whatever interests him. Most people give Good Night and Good Luck credit for being his best political movie, and there's no denying that the tribute to Edward R. Murrow has plenty of charm. However, The Ides of March feels like it is a bit more challenging and more effective in presenting a story of espionage and intrigue by updating the Roman Empire tragedy with a more modern text of a political intern sabotaging a campaign. Caesar doesn't die this time, though his career is probably in tatters.

The story focuses around Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), who is the best campaign manager anyone could have, especially liberal dream candidate Governor Morris (Clooney). He is "married to the campaign" and keeps the lower interns in line. In some ways, this is a dramatic interpretation of The War Room, but with more emphasis on exploring themes related to presidential campaigns. At one point, fellow intern Ben (Max Minghella) suggests that people vote for the most experienced candidate in the primaries, but the less qualified in the actual election. It's small comments like this that give a sense of who Morris is. Morris is a supporting character in that he's mostly seen giving speeches and creating a self-image that will resonate with people. He is charming, and there's nothing that can take him down. Even Clooney's brisk direction and pacing follows the intertwined story with a clarity that its deliciously wordy script can sometimes trip over. Everyone has an obsession here, and sometimes it sounds petty or so involved that you'd just have to take their word for it.

After all, word choice isn't really the main motivation of the movie. It's about the pull between both sides for Stephen. Does he stick with Morris in light of ongoing controversies, including an unfavorable event with intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), or does he give it up and sink the candidate by joining the opposition? Stephen becomes a man of conflict, in part because it's a revelation in how Gosling becomes spineless. Here was a man who could be trusted to elect the next president, and now it's not clear if he will have any friends by the movie's end. He flirts with journalists (Marissa Tomei) and finds that his career is in a downward spiral. With several tragedies spread throughout, the events play out to Alexandre Desplat's underrated march-like score in a way that evokes classic patriotism, but with a melancholic sense of espionage. The film becomes intense as it explores the impact that others can have on one man's life. In 2016, the film's controversial text feels less shocking due to the American presidential election's rich well of conflicts. Even then, it helps to centralize just how prescient the film's conflicts are. In a more civilized election, a politician like Gov. Morris would've been sunk from a guaranteed lead. In 2017, in a time where a politician punched a reporter and won an election DAYS later, Morris' personal conflicts seem quaint.

Based off of the play "Farragut North," The Ides of March is a film that doesn't let up. Everything builds and the stakes get higher, reflecting a dark and seedy nature that campaigns have to face in order to win. Clooney shines noticeably towards the end when he's confronted with the growing scandals. He has, in theory, done nothing wrong. It's his team however that is ruining is chances. Morris snaps, forcing himself to express his deeper intentions, and ones that are antithetical to his public image. Here is a man for the people, and he's about to kick somebody out of the community. There's a lot to enjoy about his small acting moments throughout the film, in part because he still embodies a liberal dream akin to President Bartlett on The West Wing. How could someone not want to vote for him? Stephen's personal affairs, that's why.

I think in general Clooney may be one of the most underrated mainstream directors out there. His filmography is rich with films that show his versatility. I would even say that he's often more successful than he gets credit for. Even if Good Night and Good Luck gets credit as his most acclaimed directorial film, I'd argue that there's some magic to films like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind or The Ides of March where he explores humanity in its richest forms. He has humor and insight into every frame that makes his work feel real. It's cinema in its purest form. Sure, he may have a dud here or there (Leatherheads), but his ability to get great casts and above average scripts give him plenty to work with. I'm curious to see what he does with Suburbicon, which looks to be his first true dark comedy since Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Who knows if he's still got it. However, it's films like The Ides of March that confirm his ability to be so much more than an actor. He's a genuine artist.

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