Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA, 2011. , , , , , Screenplay by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon. Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. Produced by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Production Design by Sharon Seymour. Costume Design by Louise Frogley. Film Editing by Stephen Mirrione. Academy Awards 2011. Golden Globe Awards 2011. National Board of Review Awards 2011. Toronto International Film Festival 2011. Venice Film Festival 2011.
This tepid, underwhelming political drama stands on the shoulders of better films without adding anything new. Ryan Gosling is the idealistic assistant to a Democratic campaign manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who has an unwavering belief in the possibility that their candidate (George Clooney, who also wrote and directed) will be the one to make a better tomorrow. One careless misstep on his part during the primary race, however, puts Gosling’s job on the line, and rather than hold to the standards to which he holds others, Gosling entertains the possibility that he could use a card he has against Clooney to secure his own place in the game. The message is quite clear: whatever belief you have in the greater good, you will sacrifice your principles for your own survival. Politics is such a dirty game that even the most innocent are corrupted (even when working for the good guys!) The problem is that Clooney (as director) puts this across with such blunt, plainly spelled-out force that the enjoyment of watching a soul deteriorate before your very eyes is denied you. Gosling does a terrific job of letting his frustration simmer in his eyes, the same eyes that rolled with passionate joy earlier in the film, but he is never given enough of a chance to really stew in his situation before he decides to go for the fall. A movie like Primary Colours did a far better job of showing the declining nature of political idealism while including more developed characters, a lot more humour (which this one needs: between Clooney’s frankly simplistic liberal rhetoric and jokes on par with the kind of humour that usually comes from an evangelical preacher, the film is far too dry) and zippier direction. This one takes far too long to get going, after a rocky start that never kicks into gear until one character makes a devastating personal confession, and the uneven performances range from wan (Clooney is phoning it in the whole time) to overbaked (Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as rival campaign bosses are reading their lines with self-important gusto but never get around to creating characters…are we supposed to think these guys are great actors simply because they’re ugly?) Gosling is the only one who comes off untarnished, while appearances by Marisa Tomei and Jennifer Ehle are wasted opportunities.