Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grany Heslove, Beau Willimon
Producers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei
Present Day USA: It’s the ‘Primaries’ – elections in Ohio to select the Democrat’s presidential candidate for the next general election. The campaign leader’s assistant Stephen – Hollywood’s man of the moment Ryan Gosling – is only 30 years old but, as he says in the first few minutes of the film, “I’ve worked on more campaigns than most people have by the time they’re 40”. Young, good looking and so popular that even those who hate him love him, what could possibly go wrong? Stephen’s problems begin when he’s head-hunted by the opposing team’s campaign manager Tom Duffy, played by a believably twitchy Paul Giamatti. Over weight and stressed, Tom mirrors Stephen’s campaign manager Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfectly cast). Both men contrast with the attractive Gosling, foreshadowing what he’ll no doubt become if he continues in politics. This is a neatly constructed character driven and emotionally restrained drama that shows more than it tells despite being a “talky” film.
Despite starring Ryan Gosling, this is a George Clooney film through and through, directed and co-written by him he also co stars as Mike Morris the too-good-to-be-true election candidate that Stephen is fighting for. Comparisons have been made with Good Night and Good Luck, Clooney’s first political thriller and, while the stories couldn’t be more different there is a similarity in the tight, intimate nature of the action. This film is low on dramatic set pieces despite having twists and turns all over the place, not all of which you see coming; but the dramatic impact stems more from the personal choices that have to be made, the unfortunate roll of the dice for some and the long term consequences of innocent mistakes – if there is such a thing in politics. Indeed the theme seems to be the loss of innocence for Stephen, who we were lead to believe was already slick, sophisticated and experienced in the ways of the world, so perhaps the shock is as much ours when he finds himself out played by the older men and still able to feel surprise at the double lives that people can lead.
This is a gentle film in a lot of ways. Each character is neatly portrayed in the light and the dark, there are no good or bad guys just sides to choose. The film subtly poses questions about values, it points towards asking if we have to sacrifice our personal beliefs at times for the greater good but, unlike Clooney’s first film The Ides of March is sheer entertainment, no heavy messages. The acting is spot on, the dialogue smart but, unlike a lot of “political thrillers”, not so pretentiously complicated that those of us unschooled in American politics easily lose the plot. I did feel at times though, and especially at the end that there could have been a little more drama injected into this film. The cast and writing deserved it but unfortunately the conclusion didn’t quite deliver. Go and see it if you like talky political intrigue, if you like that you’ll love this.
NB: There are female characters in this film too, strong ones so don’t be put off that they didn’t make the review, hmm maybe it’s a bit like politics…