Monday, 5 December 2011

Clooney Campaigning: A Feather Duster's Remembrance Of Things Past

George Clooney's The Ides of March is the best look at the backstage of political campaigning since Michael Ritchie's The Candidate, starring Robert Redford, in 1979. The round-the-clock tiredness, mutual suspicion, campaign fucking, big policy lurches, two-way betrayals, tawdry deals with ideological enemies,  alcoholic remorse and chronic self-loathing are the same in most democracies, I suspect, and characters I recognise from New South Wales and South Australia, including two Bruce Hawkers, exist as vividly and potently and achingly in this film for me as they do in the life I have known for sixteen years as a part-time backroomer and Labor fellow-traveller. The shopsoiled idealism of Tom Duffy and Paul Zara, played by Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (the two Hawkers), is particularly familiar: this is the life they know, they detest it, are hooked by it, want out of it, will never leave it and may die of it, gunned down in a motel in Tucson or a parking lot in Anchorage, Alaska.
So is the heady chess-playing amoral hydrophobic ambition of the young tactician Stephen Meyers, played by the quiet, splay-eyed Ryan Gosling, an enthused Machiavellian sucker-fish-turned-pirhana who may make President himself if the wallopers do not catch up with him soon; he has elements of Bodisco, Wedderburn, Walladge, Muldoon, Bobby Kennedy, and follows you home when you leave the cinema and sits by the bed looking mildly at you. You know something he wants to find out and he is keen to talk to you. No hurry, he'll wait there till you wake.
Clooney himself plays the Presidential Contender, Mike Morris, a dishy, hair-perfect, smiling simulacrum of a modern Hollywood President who looks like Romney and talks like Bob Brown. He has policies we all want to see enacted -- universal free tertiary education, an end to oil and the desert wars that come with our need to consume it -- and a fatal flaw which if discovered will hound him, like Herman Cain, out of politics altogether.
Wonderfully, Clooney, the auteur, keeps Clooney, the featured star, off-screen a good deal of the time. Great speeches we really want to hear -- as good as their West Wing equivalents, or Barack Obama's -- are overlapped by murmurous angry wrangling on phones back-stage or campaign fucking while the television plays the late-night round-up in the motel bedroom. He does the big effusive counterfeit campaign smiles as well as Henry Fonda in The Best Man. He is tuned-in, on message, baritone, handsome and plausible as Bill Clinton. We sense he believes it too, but what does that matter? He has a fatal flaw. What his aides can do, fuck an intern, he cannot. Must not. As we in the trade used to say, oh shit.
Marisa Tomei as the dark-eyed, probing, brilliant bitch reporter is excellent as always. And so too is Evan Rachel Wood as Molly Stearns, the intern. Twenty, she could be twenty-six. She is old beyond her years but capable, when smitten, of the kind of high-school-prom-night-fuck-up that can bring down the whole house of cards. She thinks of herself as a budding Evita; but she is wrong. And very dangerous.
No more of the plot can be decently revealed before you see it. Watch carefully Giamatti and Seymour Hoffmann as they walk away. The burden of their life on the road from La Mancha to earthly glory has worn them down. They look like faithful mongrel dogs with only three legs left, keeping up with their masters as they have to, limping, hurrying, catching up, their Casablanca-sardonic dialogue barely maintaining their dignity till they get to the night's first whisky.
This is a wonderful film. Go see it.


At 6 December 2011 at 00:56 , Blogger Doug Quixote said...

Thanks for the review. I am a fan of Giamatti ever since his brilliant portrayal of John Adams. Clooney is a fine actor as well - looks like Romney and talks like Bob Brown! "I'd like to see that."

Apropos of nothing, the Drum seem to leave every post I make agreeing with you on the cutting room floor. One phrase I am particularly proud of is

"Those who enthusiastically embrace a new broom usually end up with splinters"

Do you like it?

At 6 December 2011 at 13:34 , Blogger Bob Ellis said...

It's very good, and it's nice to experience your vigilance in this new forum.

It is my plan to progressively put up on it the fifteen or twenty pieces Unleashed rejected, before and after I was right about Strauss-Kahn.

At 7 December 2011 at 13:24 , Blogger J.G.Cole said...

An excellent review Bob Ellis.
An even better title!

I am particularly fond of Hoffman. I can't seem to think of anything he's done that I can fault. And even after many viewings I find both "Syriana" and "Michael Clayton" simply fascinating.

To Doug Quixote: if I can just add to your phrase?
Mies van der Rohe, the (my)doyen of Modernist architecture, once remarked, "one cannot invent a new architecture every Monday morning".

Anyway, I look forward to reading your rejected articles are not the only one with brilliant, imaginative and insightful pieces littering the Drum cutting room floor ;).


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