Has there ever been a character so seemingly written for a specific actor than Randy ‘the Ram’ Johnson, so perfect a fit for Mickey Rourke it’s impossible to imagine anyone else play him. Both were big in the 80s, Rourke at the peak of his game in Diner, 9 ½ Weeks and Barfly, Randy a top billing wrestler, but then saw their popularity wane and the roles dry up, before a comeback arrived, in the shape of Sin City for Rourke, as heavily scarred behemoth with a heart of goldie Marv, and a reunion battle with former nemesis the Ayatollah for the Ram. Rourke’s face, a battleground of botched plastic surgery and his four year stint of boxing in the early 90s looks like it’s been pummelled in the ring for years, and he nails every note of Ram’s trajectory, as a particularly brutal weapons match – in which a disabled spectator offers Randy his prosthetic leg to use as a club – causes the Ram to suffer a heart attack, and his wrestling days are over. Whilst struggling to adapt to a life without his one true love, he attempts to form a relationship with similarly aging, but still smoking at 45, stripper Cassidy (Oscar-winning Marisa Tomei) and reconnect with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). The flinch levels are unexpectedly high for a character piece, with incidents involving a deli-counter meat slicer and a staple gun proving the most worthy of a glance away from the screen. Director Darren Aronofsky – more known for deeper, more obscure work like Pi, the Fountain and more recently Black Swan, employs great cinematography, shooting everything on location with no sets and as many long tracking shots as he can, but this is Rourke’s game through and through, and though he wasn’t robbed of the Oscar (Sean Penn’s Milk was more deserving , in my opinion), I hope he doesn’t throw everything away with support roles in entertaining but cringeworthy fare like the Expendables and Immortals. He needs some more layered, meaty roles, I’m just not sure anything will ever be such a good fit.
Ryan Gosling is Stephen Meyers, assistant campaign manager to Governor Morris (George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote), who is currently locked in a battle with opposing democratic candidate Senator Pullman to win the Ohio Democratic Primary and eventually win the nomination as the next potential president. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are their campaign managers, Marisa Tomei the Times reporter out for inside information, Evan Rachel Wood a young intern with her eye on Gosling’s big man on campus, and Jeffrey Wright is the senator both sides are eager to please.
In the past few years there have been a number of talky, ‘important’ films with predominantly male all-star ensemble casts, with generally well written scripts dealing with issues whose effects can have life or death ramifications. From The Company Men, Moneyball, Margin Call and Wall Street 2, they all have something else in common – I haven’t seen them yet. It’s not that I don’t want to see them (Moneyball and Margin Call are in my LoveFilm queue and The Company Men is sat on DVD form on my shelf – Wall Street 2 will take me a while as first I must get past a hatred for Shia LaBeouf) it’s just that I don’t have many opportunities to go to the cinema, so I use them for seeing movies with a certain sense of spectacle, ones that will make the better use of a gigantic screen and that, should I happen to miss a line of dialogue from a fellow patron’s ringing phone, screaming child or popcorn-chomp, I can still follow the plot amidst the explosions and giant robots. The more dialogue-heavy, less action-y films are saved for DVD. This even applied to such masterpieces as The Social Network – I saw Toy Story 3 instead. Please don’t have a go at me about this. Rest assured that if I had the time (and the money) to see the other films at the cinema too, then I would, and there have been difficult decisions made in the past as to what must be sacrificed for a smaller screen some months down the line.
And so it is that it’s taken me a little while to watch The Ides of March, though it was well reviewed, I’m a fan of 5 of the principle players (Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman, Giamatti & Tomei) and The West Wing has made me at least interested in the ins and outs of American politics, more so than I am in the British trivialities. Plus, my girlfriend could be described as being more than a fan of Gosling (I’m still receiving backlash from my rant on The Notebook).
Now this isn’t a bad film, but I got the feeling that every actor involved was retreading ground they’d walked down many a time before. They all performed well – though Gosling goes a bit glary-eyed on a couple of occasions – but no-one really showed anything new. This is kind of a testament to the acting talents on display. Nobody does cynical schlubs like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, but they’re settled into a well formed groove, and who is Clooney’s smoothly persuasive senator than a slightly more ambitious Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air? Only Gosling gives something of a fresh performance, but only in terms of him being something of an impressionable blank slate of contradictions. His Stephen has supposedly worked on more campaigns by the time he’s 30 than most of his peers ten years his senior, yet it sends him reeling when he discovers that the world of politics is more than occasionally played with cards to the chest and the odd stacked deck.
At times the plot goes a bit overly dramatic. The outcome from who is the presidential candidate already has the potential for phenomenal consequences, yet the scriptwriters felt the need to show the devastating effects this can also have on individual people, with the fate of Evan Rachel Wood’s intern Molly being particularly distressing. It hits the point home, but does so in too severe a manner. I feel that there was greater scope for exploring the characters of Gosling and Clooney being two sides of the same coin twenty years apart. Had equal time been spent on their stories, rather than instead focusing more on Gosling – who I never really believed in as a masterful campaign manager sought after by everyone – then this could have been more interesting. The whole poster campaign was set up to show them, and their freakishly symmetrical faces, as being the same person anyway, yet this seemed completely lacking in the film.
Were this the first film I’d seen with most of these actors in I’d no doubt have been floored by the incredible performances on display. I don’t mean to take anything away from them – they are all consummate professionals who are incredible at what they do and I look forward to seeing them do it again – it’s just I’ve seen them all do it before.
Choose life 7/10
Choose film 7/10