Director: George Clooney
Writer: George Clooney, Beau Willimon, and Grant Heslov
Cinematographer: Phedon Papamichael
by Jon Cvack
I’ve seen this film three times now. I loved it the first time, liked it a lot the second, and loved it again minus one part I’ll get to in a second for the latest. Writer Beau Willimon adapted the material from his play Farragut North (which I would die to see), and would later go on to "House of Cards" fame. It's a powerful and intimate political thriller with one of the finest ensemble casts from the last decade.
I’m not sure if it’s now that I’m around the same age as Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), but like most films you revisit after a long period of time, I found myself connecting with his character far more this time around than last - though it is strange how far thirty feels when you’re in your early twenties versus how close forty feels now, even though it’s further away. Gosling plays a tenacious campaign advisor to Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), who may or may not be willing to do whatever it takes to get to the next level. In one of the finest casting decisions of recent times, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti play Campaign Managers Paul Zara and Tom Duffy of the opposing Democratic candidates, with Zara managing Morris. I recalled one being more malicious then the other, and yet this time around I saw both men as equals, each with their own weaknesses, strengths, and ruthlessness.
It’s all a perfect set up, except until the intern, Molly Stearns (Rachel Wood) - who’s the daughter to the Head of the DNC - approaches Meyers and sleeps with him, even though he knows she’s only nineteen. Soon, though, he discovers that she was once with Morris and breaks things off. And then the abortion scene comes about, which with all due respect to victims, felt way too hackneyed and easy for the story. It reminded me of a 1950s play, and while maybe that was the point, compared to the more creative complications and conflicts throughout the story, it just felt uninspired and much too heavy. Structurally, I understand that there needed to be something that Meyers had on Morris, and that would lead to her death, but it seemed like a case of the means justifying the end. There had to be something more creative and original than the girl-with-the-abortion-commits-suicide. It was all too convenient to the conclusion. It’s not even a terrible idea. It just didn’t fit the tone. It belonged some place else.
In the end, the movie’s best two scenes both involve Duffy and Zara, where Meyers explains that he talked to Duffy Zara, who in a brilliant exchange, fires Meyers for failing on loyalty. Such a simple idea and yet so powerfully delivered by Hoffman, who remaining calm via cigarettes throughout the story, finally explodes. This is then followed by an equally formidable exchange with Duffy, who explains that knowing Zara’s weakness for disloyalty, took a chance on making the call and offering the job to Meyers, who for so much as showing up, would be out from Zara’s campaign - he either would take the job, or be fired. We witness a great moment where Gosling realizes he’s still inexperienced, absolute novice by comparison to these two men, who each made wise decisions and played him worst of all.
In the end, the climatic moment with Morris and Meyers’ exchange felt too forced and big. It’s hard to imagine a man like Clooney losing a campaign as one of the world’s most beloved celebrities. Not just due to his fame, but because he exudes charisma, confidence, and intelligence. Again, it seemed a bit more like the means serving the end. I suppose that might have been the point - making it all the more shocking when this great guy turned out to make an equally poor decision. Yet throughout the story we watch as this honest politician is corrupted by the system, committed to winning and saying whatever it is he needs to say to get there, no matter how bland it sounds, that the final speech felt unnecessary. It seemed like a big payoff that had already been accomplished bit by bit throughout the film and therefore like kicking a very - obviously - dead horse.
Yet these are all such small things compared to such a great film. I wanted to discover more, I wanted to watch those performances, I wanted to pay attention to the direction, as the film featured some amazing camera work. It’s the type of film where you want to find another one like it. I put on Glengarry Glenn Ross immediately after, which was really close, but still there’s something about a great political thriller that always leaves you wanting more.
BELOW: Best scene of the movie. Oh how I miss this man
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