The Review: Somewhere along the line, George Clooney became an American institution, but I’m still struggling to pinpoint the exact moment that it happened. It must have been after he was in ER (the second one; he was actually in two different series called ER, fact fans, one of which was a comedy), and definitely after he was in that Batman film. Admittedly he probably got into that because everyone was convinced he was a movie star; somewhere between Out Of Sight and Ocean’s Eleven it actually came true, but actually his screen career’s been patchy at best. His directorial efforts haven’t really been any different, and from the highs of Good Night, And Good Luck to The Leatherheads sinking without trace, a Clooney film is far from a sure thing. So it’s a great relief to report that The Ides Of March is actually a cracking thriller, but one of a very particular type.
But just as Clooney’s character seems practically perfect in every possible way, much of the success of Ides isn’t just Clooney’s skill in front of and behind the camera, it’s actually his leading man. For Clooney is almost a support player in his own movie, but his leading man seems physically incapable of appearing in a bad film these days, on a hot streak this year including Blue Valentine, Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love. Ryan Gosling is rapidly turning into the George Clooney of his generation, the next matinee idol and on a similar trajectory. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the film follows similar threads, Gosling’s idealistic campaigner working keenly in the shadow of Clooney’s virtuous liberal Senator. When Gosling gets a call from a rival campaigner (Paul Giamatti), curiosity gets the better of him and it sets in motion a chain of events that threaten to not only upturn his life, but also that of the fresh-faced intern (Evan Rachel Wood) who’s keen to get in his, erm, briefs.
That last reference would have worked better if Ides were a courtroom or legal thriller, but tonally it actually has a lot in common with some of the better examples of that genre from recent years, such as A Few Good Men or The Firm. (This might also suggest Gosling could be the next Tom Cruise rather than George Clooney, which should certainly be within his reach if he wants it.) It’s also a sign that The Ides Of March isn’t actually as deep as it thinks it is; it’s not quite paddling pool shallow, but the politics itself is an extreme form of liberal idealism that wouldn’t hold water in the real world, and the actual debate never really gets a look in, as it’s all about the Clooney campaign. But Clooney the director makes the greater contribution of the two Clooneys here, with heavy use of close-ups getting heavily into the drama and the pacing kept just right for the material.
It’s not to diminish Clooney the actor’s contribution; whenever he or Gosling is on screen, the effect is magnetic, and when the two are together the screen positively burns with charisma. It’s very much an actor’s movie, and there’s sterling support from the likes of Giamatti, Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei. Those expecting an intricate political dissection of the current state of the Union will be disappointed; an early reference to Neville Chamberlain gives a feel of the more timeless themes of personal integrity and power that Clooney the writer and his partner Grant Heslov are keen to explore. A slightly muted reception in the US might be down to the two party system, and the fact that The Ides Of March wears its Democrat badge with pride (even if it does evoke some of the most well known Democrats of recent years for many of the wrong reasons), but if you’re looking for entertainment then there’s no need to beware this Ides Of March.
Why see it at the cinema: Flirting in tight close up, when the camera is fully in the faces of Ryan Gosling and Evan Rachel Wood, there’s something for everyone.
The Score: 8/10
The Review: It’s been fifteen years, believe it or not, since Matthew McConaughey was hailed as The Next Big Thing. His starring role in the John Grisham legal adaptation A Time To Kill, and his performance at the head of a cast that ranged from Sandra Bullock to Kevin Spacey and nearly everyone in between seemed to see him set for fame and fortune. Sadly, everything since has been an anti-climax, and the last decade has seen him stuck in a rut of poor action movies and even poorer romantic comedies. So where better to retreat to than the courtroom when it’s time to try to refresh that career? For some reason, McConaughey’s career seems to come built in with low expectations, but anyone going into The Lincoln Lawyer should have no qualms about raising them.
The Lincoln Lawyer is an adaptation of Michael Connolly’s novel in which he introduces the character of Mick Haller (McConaughey). Based out of the back of his Lincoln town car, Haller oozes charm and has an angle or a play for every situation. He’s recommended to pick up the case of spoiled rich kid Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), accused of assault but adamant of his innocence. As he digs deeper into the case, he juggles not only the other clients he represents, but also his ex-wife (Marisa Tomei) and their young daughter. Things aren’t as they first seem and soon Haller is having to find new angles and new plays as his own situation worsens.
If you came in half way through The Lincoln Lawyer, you may be forgiven for thinking that it’s a bog standard legal thriller, albeit a well executed one. But by then you’d already have missed several of the twists and turns that the plot takes, and director Brad Furman keeps the pace moving along effortlessly. The film does succeed in subverting expectations and plays with the conventions of the genre, so it manages to feel fresher than it probably should, and McConaughey gives a rangy, solid performance, both likeable and human and keeping you guessing as to his far ahead, if at all, he is of the plot gears turning.
McConaughey has outshone much better casts, but The Lincoln Lawyer does at least have a quality roster of character actors, including the likes of William H Macy, Bryan Cranston and Bob Gunton give solid support. Marisa Tomei especially continues the good run she’s been on and McConaughey will, I’m sure, be hoping for a similarly good sequence of parts to befall him in the next few years. When it comes to summing up, The Lincoln Lawyer is quietly efficient and solid, rather than spectacular, entertainment but it’s a welcome return to form for its lead; let’s hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of Mick Haller on the big screen.
Why see it at the cinema: The tense, sweaty atmosphere will bubble and simmer nicely inside a packed cinema – this is good enough to deserve at least one or two of those.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: If you’re looking for an actor who’s tried his hand at nearly every kind of movie to help make your move into the mainstream, then you probably shouldn’t look any further than John C. Reilly. From the Paul Thomas Anderson dramas of the Nineties, through a supporting turn in Chicago to Adam McKay comedies, Reilly’s choices are nothing if not eclectic and he has proven himself adept at turning his hand to both comedy and drama. So who better to lead your cast if you’re attempting to break into the mainstream after making your name in small, mumbling indie movies? John C. Reilly is almost the perfect everyman, but also manages to perfectly embody the foibles and neuroses that make him a believable loner.
This is the story of the two women in John’s life – Jamie (Catherine Keener), his put upon ex-wife, although the put-uponning is almost entirely from John, and Molly (Marisa Tomei), the woman he meets at a party and quickly forms a bond with, who seems oblivious to his eccentricities or actually charmed by them. Consequently, John is keen to hang on to Molly, although she seems secretive and distant – that becomes a little clearer when John invites himself round to her place and is confronted with Cyrus, Molly’s grown up son, whose oddities seem to make John’s pale into insignificance.
Cyrus himself is portrayed by Jonah Hill, who in contrast to Reilly seems to have made a career out of playing very subtle variations on Jonah Hill. Here, for possibly the first time, he gets to stretch himself a little, his wide-eyed stare and placid demeanour coming off initially as simply shy but revealing itself as more over the course of the movie. If you’ve seen the poster, then it’s not a leap to expect John and Cyrus to become adversaries for Molly’s affection, and that’s exactly what happens in this off-kilter romantic comedy, but it’s the performances of Reilly and Hill that make this worth watching.
Having said that, all of the cast are excellent, it’s just that the two male leads feel at the top of their game. There’s a lot of laughs here, and while the humour is driven by the awkward situations of the characters there’s still plenty of laughs to be had. There are a couple of issues though; first off, mumblecore stalwarts Mark and Jay Duplass both write and direct, and are better at the former than the latter, their insistence on the zoom employed every time a character has any kind of reaction being in keeping with similar realist material, but rather too overused here. The other is that, for a movie that feels like it’s attempting to be unconventional in its set-up, it’s all rather neat and tidy and actually desperately conventional as it moves into the final scenes. A fair amount to enjoy, but sadly Cyrus isn’t quite destined for greatness.
Why see it at the cinema: Plenty of good laughs for audience appreciation, although the direction is more intimate than epic in scope.
The Score: 7/10