As far back as Aristophanes' satires of democracy, politics has provided a backdrop for classic drama. In movies of the 1930s and '40s, audiences cheered the idealism of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or The Great McGinty. Film directors explored more shaded themes through the '50s and '60s with Seven Days in May and Advise and Consent.
By 1972, when Robert Redford portrayed Bill McKay in the black comedy The Candidate, Hollywood had staked a firm claim on the political potboiler. In fact, Redford holds two spots on most critics' Top 10 lists of great political films, following up The Candidate with the 1976 classic All the President's Men.
If you're a glutton for the genre, you could fill a weekend with great back-to-back political films: The American President, Bob Roberts, Bulworth, The Contender, Dave, Primary Colors, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, Thirteen Days and Wag the Dog. And of course, The West Wing, which set a new standard for political drama on NBC from 1999-2006. Oh, President Bartlett, where are you when we need you most?
Of course, the challenge of a political drama in the 21st century is: How can you top the real thing? Bill Clinton's inability to keep it zipped up, John Edwards' baby mama, and oh yeah, Larry Craig. You can't make this stuff up.
To the legion of highly flawed, but very watchable fictional political icons, I gladly endorse Mike Morris, the fictional governor of the very real state of Pennsylvania.
George Clooney co-starred in, directed, co-wrote and produced The Ides of March, which opens Friday, Oct. 7. The film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, when BW spoke with the uber-star.
"I didn't think about this as a political film," said Clooney. "I thought of this more as a film about moral choices."
Sorry, George, but The Ides of March is a very political film and you know it. In fact, politics is its greatest strength. While the plot jumps the rails at times, the story's drama quotient increases when we return to political back alleys.
Clooney has surrounded himself with one of the best casts in recent memory: Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood.
"I think he knocks it out of the park," Clooney said, referring to Gosling sitting inches away. "His is a very difficult role, at the center of a hurricane."
Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, a political wunderkind, one of those ridiculously talented but nasty operatives. (Think a very good looking James Carville.) It's Gosling's highest profile role to date in a career that has already garnered an Academy Award nomination. Don't be surprised if he grabs another trip to the Oscars for this portrayal. Gosling should be nominated along with Clooney, Clooney and Clooney for Best Director, Screenplay and Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. This will probably be Clooney's year--given his stellar leading performance in another film, The Descendants, which comes out in about a month.
The Ides of March is far from a perfect film. Its plot is familiar and, in a few spots, highly predictable. But it is still better than 95 percent of the pulp filling cineplexes this year. To that end, it's worth your vote.