The Ides of March
Rated R for pervasive profanity
Politics Makes For Strange Bedfellows In Presidential Race Thriller
Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) joined Mike Morris’ (George Clooney) Presidential campaign out of a heartfelt conviction that the Pennsylvania Governor was “the only one who’s going to make a difference in people’s lives.” And the idealistic press secretary’s bright-eyed enthusiasm has remained apparent even to casual observers like the NY Times reporter (Marisa Tomei) who can’t help but observe that “You really have drunk the Kool-Aid.”
By contrast, Stephen’s jaded boss, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is a relatively cynical veteran with plenty of campaigns under his belt. So, he’s intuitively decided to keep a close eye on his gullible protégé, given that Governor Morris is on the brink of securing the Democratic nomination. All he needs to do is keep his image clean until the upcoming Ohio primary, since the polls indicate he’s already the favorite to collect the Buckeye State’s 160+ convention delegates.
However, the street savvy Zara is well aware that the campaign of their only competitor, Arkansas Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell), is being run by Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), a Machiavellian manipulator desperate to win at any cost. The cutthroat Duffy is not above stooping to dirty tricks such as dangling a plum cabinet position in front of a powerful politician (Jeffrey Wright) in return for a coveted, influential endorsement.
When they arrive in Cincinnati on the eve of the candidates’ final debate, Stephen has no idea he’s on the verge of having both his judgment and loyalty sorely tested. Between being tempted by a flirtatious intern (Evan Rachel Wood) and being invited to rendezvous for a drink at a sports bar by a disarmingly affable rival with a hidden agenda, he finds himself having to negotiate a gauntlet of potential pitfalls. The trouble is that a failing might not merely reflect upon Stephen, but it could have some serious repercussions for the entire campaign.
This is the compelling premise of The Ides Of March, a multi-layered thriller containing a number of cleverly-concealed twists highlighting precisely the sort of back-stabbing machinations apt to unfold behind-the-scenes of a real-life hotly-contested political campaign. The movie was produced, directed and co-stars George Clooney who also helped adapt it to the screen from Farragut North, a play loosely based on Howard Dean’s ill-fated bid for the Presidency.
The talented cast Clooney assembled, including Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood, managed to execute his vision magnificently without once hitting a false note. Gosling’s Oscar-quality performance proves particularly noteworthy, as the underrated actor exhibits a credible combination of cockiness and naïveté as the picture’s compromised protagonist.
Presidential politics making for strange bedfellows, literally and figuratively.
Excellent (4 stars).
Running time: 101 minutes.
Tri Star Pictures / Affirm Films
Rated PG-13 for violence and drug use.
Cops Struggle to Juggle Careers and Fatherhood in Faith-Based Family Flick
When Pastor Alex Kendrick read a report back in 2003 alleging that movies had become more of an influence on impressionable young minds than the church, he decided to do something about it. So, along with his brother, Stephen, and fellow pastors Michael Catt and Jim McBride, he co-founded Sherwood Pictures in order to make their own faith-based films.
Operating on a modest budget under the aegis of the Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia, the Christian studio has previously produced a trio of well-received, inspirational morality plays, most notably, Fireproof, which grossed over $30 million at the box-office alone.
A bona fide Renaissance Man, Pastor Alex not only writes and directs each feature, but stars in them as well. Plus, he is the author of several best-selling novels, including The Love Dare, an NY Times #1 Best Seller, which has remained on the list for 126 weeks thus far, while selling 6 million copies and counting.
Courageous, Kendrick’s latest cinematic offering, is an alternately action-oriented and thought-provoking adventure, which thoroughly entertains while ever so subtly issuing a clarion call for a cultural rededication to traditional family values. The story specifically telescopes tightly on the trials and tribulations faced by a quartet of colleagues serving on the Albany Police Force.
We witness an endearing male bonding among the four at work as they cultivate the trust necessary to know a buddy will have your back when apprehending perpetrators in dangerous situations. However, an entirely different type of camaraderie is called for after hours as they try to unwind from the stresses of the day in the company of their wives and children.
It is that struggle to juggle career and fatherhood that sits at the heart of Courageous, a sobering parable designed to make men reflect on what’s most important in life. And to varying degrees, each of the picture’s protagonists proves to be a flawed individual.
First, there’s Officer Adam Mitchell (Kendrick), who’s been chided by his wife, Victoria (Renee Jewell), for not devoting enough quality time to their kids. He can’t catch a break, between missing daughter Emily’s (Lauren Etchells) dance recitals and declining son Dylan’s (Rusty Martin) repeated offers to run a 5K race together.
Then we have Adam’s partner, Shane Fuller (Kevin Downes), who behaves more like a pal than a dad to his 12 year-old, perhaps because he was left emotionally wounded by his own parents’ divorce. Consequently, he’s taken to filling that hole in his soul in an inappropriate manner.
The third officer is Nathan Hayes (Ken Bevel), an 8-year vet from Atlanta who has just moved his family back to his hometown to raise his kids in a city with a slower pace. He never even met his own father, so foremost among his issues is figuring out how to parent a flattered 15-year-old (Taylor Hutcherson) being wooed by an older boy (Donald Howze) in a gang who has his own car.
Finally, there’s Nathan’s young partner, David Thomson (Ben Davies), a deadbeat dad who is in denial about the existence of a 4-year-old daughter born out of wedlock.
Each of the aforementioned predicaments eventually boils over into a crisis leading to a moment of truth. But no matter the issue, again and again the question seems to return to whether or not each is ready to summon up the requisite amalgam of courage, faith and resolve to become a man.
A moving, modern parable not to be missed by anyone who’s always wondering why they don’t make wholesome movies with uplifting messages anymore.
Excellent (4 stars).
Running time: 129 minutes.
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening October 7, 2011
Real Steel (PG-13 for violence, intense action and brief profanity). Futuristic sci-fi about a washed-up boxer-turned-fight promoter (Hugh Jackman) who, with the help of the young son he never knew (Dakota Goyo), trains a robot for a rock ‘em-sock ‘em championship bout. With Anthony Mackie, Evangeline Lilly, Kevin Durand and Hope Davis.
1911 (Unrated). Jackie Chan directs and stars in this historical drama recounting the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, which led to the founding of the Republic of China. Cast includes Joan Chen, Bingbing Li, Winston Chao and Jaycee Chan. (In Cantonese with subtitles)
Blackthorn (R for violence and profanity). Butch Cassidy sequel set in Bolivia in 1908 that finds the famed outlaw (Sam Shepard) teaming with a local criminal (Eduardo Noriega) as he tries to return to the States after having miraculously survived the ambush that brought down the curtain on his last adventure with the Sundance Kid. With Stephen Rea, Magaly Solier and Padraic Delaney.
Dirty Girl (R for profanity, graphic sexuality and frontal nudity). Coming-of-age road comedy set in 1987 about an Oklahoma high school student with a bad reputation (Juno Temple) who runs away from home to L.A. to search for her long-lost father with the help of an equally-ostracized, gay classmate (Jeremy Dozier). Ensemble cast includes Milla Jovovich, William H. Macy, Mary Steenburgen, Dwight Yoakam and Tim McGraw.
Hell And Back Again (Unrated). Afghan War documentary toggling back and forth between the daily grind of a platoon fighting on the frontlines and the rehabilitation back in North Carolina of the Marine unit’s 25-year-old sergeant who was evacuated after being shot in the hip. (In English and Pashtu with subtitles.)
The Human Centipede 2 (Unrated). Howl-inducing horror sequel revolving around a mentally-disturbed loner (Laurence R. Harvey) who becomes obsessed with replicating the exploits of the diabolical doctor who created a human centipede in the original by sewing his helpless kidnap victims together, one behind the other on their knees, in mouth-to-anus fashion.
The Sons Of Tennessee Williams (Unrated). Out-of-the-closet documentary about the emergence of New Orleans’ gay community, which started staging flamboyant drag parties and challenging discriminatory laws back in the late ‘50s.
The Way (PG-13 for mature themes, drug use and smoking). Bittersweet tale of overwhelming regret about a grieving doctor (Martin Sheen) collecting the remains of his recently-deceased son (Emilio Estevez) in France who decides to honor his late offspring by completing the pilgrimage he had been making through the Pyrenees. Support cast includes Tcheky Karyo, Deborah Kara Unger and James Nesbitt.
The Woman On The Sixth Floor (Unrated). Class-conscious comedy set in Paris in 1960 about a bourgeois stockbroker (Fabrice Luchini) married to a snobby socialite (Sandrine Kiberlain) whose life is turned upside-down when he is befriended by their beautiful new maid (Natalia Verbeke). With Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas and Berta Ojea. (In French and Spanish with subtitles.)