<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>


By Michael Calleri

Two new movies have arrived on local screens directly from the Toronto International Film Festival. "The Ides Of March" and "Restless" both offer a respite from the summer-long parade of comic book heroes (some of them successful, some of them failed) and unbelievable romantic comedies (most of them failed).

Once again, it's a marvel that Woody Allen's "Midnight In Paris" continues to play across the country, six months after its opening date. Allen's delightfully charming and utterly beautiful comedic love story has beguiled almost everyone who has seen it. There's a reason it's still running. It filled a gap for adult audiences desperately seeking more elevated fare amid the over-hyped excesses of today's corporate-run studios. Occupy Wall Street? Heck, occupy Hollywood.

Now that the summer cinema doldrums are over and much better films are opening, there really is something wonderfully satisfying about sitting in a movie theater and watching intelligent, engrossing entertainment like "The Ides Of March."

This latest from director-star-producer George Clooney is a political drama in the vein of Gore Vidal's "The Best Man." It may have some minor flaws, but it is very much a film to recommend to adults looking for a feature that's smart and topical and has a twist or two to help keep them happily engaged.

Based on the play "Farragut North" by Beau Willimon, who worked in a number of political campaigns, and who co-wrote the screenplay, along with Clooney and co-producer Grant Heslov, "The Ides Of March" tells the story of burning ambition as seen from the inside of a tense campaign for the presidency of the United States.

The Ohio Democratic primary is on the horizon, and the party's nomination has come down to a fierce battle for votes between two candidates, one of whom is Mike Morris, the liberal governor of Pennsylvania, played by Clooney.

He has a gung-ho staff, led by two men, a career war horse played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and a smart-as-a-whip up-and-comer played by Ryan Gosling. There will be duplicity between Hoffman and Gosling, duplicity you watch with fascination. Throughout the film, the political language spoken reeks of truth.

The work ethic and morality, or lack of it, of Gosling's character is at the core of the movie. He's Stephen Myers, a well-groomed, rigid, self-assured, almost smug young man. He's shrewd and clever and capable of dealing with myriad tasks and problems that pop up during a campaign, from strategy, to media relations, to logistics.

You notice that there's something missing from his persona. He's almost too robotic, too polished. Is he really an idealist? Or is he an opportunist? These character traits are the key to what happens as the picture progresses. Gosling plays Myers perfectly.

The thrust of the movie is that the two Democrats vying for the nomination are partisans, but are friendly enough not to make the primary race a war. The film is less about the battle between the candidates and more about the machinations that go on behind the scenes in order to get someone elected. We watch campaign officials play hardball in an effort to curry the governor's favor as they zealously guard their own positions of power.

One of the story threads is about the sexual relationship between Myers and a campaign aide played by Evan Rachel Wood. Their lovemaking is cold and unfeeling. They are fixated on getting Morris elected rather than trying to reap the pleasures of a relationship. Sex is a release from tension, nothing more.

Midway through the movie, there's a cruel development that adds some intrigue to the goings-on. It involves Gosling and Wood, and is the catalyst for a stark scene between Gosling and Clooney that takes place in a dimly lit restaurant kitchen. The power one could have over the other is in play. The dialogue is tough and taut and brutally honest.

Up to this point, we've wondered if the governor is a little too soft to be president. If he can't handle an angry aide, what can he handle? His bitter loathing of the young Turk at this point is scathingly obvious. The future for both men is at stake.

"The Ides Of March" is engaging for most of its running time. There are some small issues with the introduction of characters at the beginning. You really need to pay attention to figure out who's who, and who is on what political team. The editing fails here. Clooney's direction is mostly effective, but a little more attention should have been paid to the establishment of events at the start.

Overall, this is a character-driven film, with superb performances from a top-of-the-line cast. In addition to Clooney, Gosling, Hoffman and Wood, there's Paul Giamatti at his obsequious best as the opposing candidate's manager, Marisa Tomei as a conniving reporter, Max Minghella as a lesser campaign worker, and Jeffrey Wright as a United States senator who is the embodiment of the devil here. He would sell his soul in order to have power.

"The Ides Of March" is a pleasure to watch. You find yourself caught up in its emotional ride and you will understandably choose a side to cheer on. Will you be for Gosling's young man on the rise, or for Clooney's progressive, albeit flawed candidate? The movie works on many levels. It's something you should see and will certainly savor.

Director Gus Van Sant's "Restless" is an exercise in romantic fantasy. It's about two unformed teenagers who meet while going to funerals because they are obsessed with death and its pomp and circumstance.

The boy, played by Henry Hopper (the late actor Dennis' son), and the girl, played by Mia Wasikowska, realize that they share a strange bond and develop an awkward young love.

They are tender souls drifting through lives in which they seem to have no links to reality. He plays chess with the ghost of a kamikaze pilot, and she sees creativity in the fact that she has a brain tumor.

The film is morbid and haunting and not for everybody. It challenges you to forget your reliance on linear filmmaking. Van Sant is a master at the use of moments that come across as painterly blips on the radar screen of his strange imagination.

"Restless" is something different. I liked it.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 11, 2011