Jeffrey Wright

The Ides of March

2011

Columbia Pictures

Directed by George Clooney

Produced by George Clooney, Brian Heslov and Brian Oliver

Screenplay by George Clooney and Brian Heslov

Based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimo

A movie like THE IDES OF MARCH couldn’t have come along at a better time.  What with the country being so politically divided and the various political parties at each others throats, a political thriller is undoubtedly a topical one.  But it’s not fair to call THE IDES OF MARCH a thriller.  It’s more of a character piece, examining the flaws of our political system.  Flaws that make it just about impossible for an honest man to remain honest if he wants to get to where he believes he needs to go to do the most good.  And how good can the intentions of a good man be when he betrays everything he believes in to achieve those intentions?

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is The Junior Campaign Manager for presidential candidate Govenor Mike Morris (George Clooney).  Under the guidance of Senior Campaign Manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Stephen is clearly the real star of the campaign and it’s obvious he’s got a brilliant future ahead of him.  In fact, he’s considered to be so valuable a resource that the rival Senior Campaign Manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) wants to hire Stephen for his team.  Paul wants to make use of Stephen before he becomes cynical and corrupt like Tom and Paul.

Stephen turns him down but decides not to tell his boss.  A decision that will bite him very badly in the ass later on.  Along with his decision to cover up the affair one of his interns (Evan Rachel Wood) had with Governor Morris.  Both of these decisions drive the second half of the movie which ends up the only way that it possibly could, given the nature of the arena Stephen has chosen to play in.

THE IDES OF MARCH is one of those movies I point at when people complain that movies for adults aren’t being made anymore.  It’s a movie that carefully examines why people get into politics and why it changes them.  It’s almost as if no matter how honorable a man or woman is when they start their political career, the machinery changes them.  And not for the better.

This movie has one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in recent movies.  Besides Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman and Giamatti there’s Marisa Tomei as a reporter for The New York Times and Jeffrey Wright as a Senator whose endorsement is hotly sought as it is vital to the success of both campaigns.  Everybody’s simply terrific in their roles and Ryan Gosling especially gives off vibes that at times reminded me of Mickey Rourke and at others of Steve McQueen.

So should you see THE IDES OF MARCH?  I would certainly say yes.  It’s a mature movie.  And when I say ‘mature’ I don’t mean just because the movie has a sex scene and the “F” word is used.  I mean that it’s mature because of the issues at stake.  The moral and emotional values that are tested and broken.  The relationships that go in directions that are not expected.  And at the end of it, Stephen Meyers is left with what he worked so hard for and only himself to decide if it was worth it.

101 Minutes

Rated R

Source Code

2011

The Mark Gordon Company/ Vendome Pictures

Directed by Duncan Jones

Produced by Mark Gordon

Written by Ben Ripley

Duncan Jones directed one of my favorite movies of recent years: “Moon” which starred Sam Rockwell as a miner on The Moon who either is going mad from his three years of isolation or is one of a series of clones.  If you’ve never seen it, “Moon” is well worth checking out.  It’s the best Stanley Kubrick movie Stanley Kubrick never made.  So I was highly intrigued to see SOURCE CODE.  Unfortunately it didn’t come anywhere near engaging me as much as “Moon” and after about 45 minutes I was actually bored with the movie.

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a Chicago bound train with no idea of how he got there or why the beautiful young woman sitting across from him (Michelle Monaghan) insists on calling him Sean.  Her name is Christina and it’s obvious from the way she talks that she knows Sean well.  Colter is totally gobsmacked.  The ID in his wallet isn’t his.  It belongs to Sean Fentress, a schoolteacher.  Colter is even more astonished when he goes to the bathroom and the face in the mirror isn’t his.   Colter returns to Christina to demand answers but before he can get them, the train explodes.

Colter doesn’t die.  Instead he wakes up again.  This time inside of a metal capsule where he is being questioned via computer screen by Captain Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who frustrates Colter to no end with her stubborn refusal to explain where Colter is and how he got there.  You see, he remembers flying a helicopter gunship in Afghanistan.  And now he’s here.  And ‘here’ is The Source Code.  As Captain Goodwin explains, Source Code is a top secret military funded and operated time travel method by which Colter can inhabit someone else’s body in the past for exactly eight minutes.  And the body Colter inhabited died on that train which was blown up in a terrorist attack.  It’s vitally important that Colter find out who planted the bomb in order to prevent another, even more devastating bomb attack later on that same day.

This entails sending Colter back again and again and again to relive the last eight minutes of Sean’s life.  Every time he does so, Colter puts together even more of the puzzle.  He also falls more and more in love with Christina.  Which doesn’t sit well with Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright) the creator of Source Code.

Right from the beginning Colter doesn’t trust either Dr. Rutledge or Captain Goodwin.  Both of them stubbornly refuse to explain anything other than he has to find the bomb and the bomber.  They won’t tell him how he got there.  Colter isn’t even sure this is all real since every time he returns to the capsule, the interior is different.  One time there’s ice inside of it.  Another time it changes shape right before his eyes.  He highly suspects it’s a training exercise, a virtual simulation.  But what if it isn’t?

Now I know this sounds terribly exciting but for me it wasn’t.  SOURCE CODE played out for me as a mash-up of “Groundhog Day” and “Quantum Leap.”  And I don’t think that was lost on the filmmakers as well since Scott Bakula provides the voice of Colter’s dad who we never see but is heard in a couple of emotional scenes.  The movie quickly settles down into a set series of events: Colter goes back in time.  He learns a little bit more about the bomb/bomber.  He has a few heartfelt longing looks with Christina and soulful dialog.  Train blows up.  He’s back in the capsule.  He argues with Captain Goodwin.  She sends him back to the train.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t bad, though.  Between this and the awful “Prince of Persia” I can see where he has the makings of an action hero.  He just hasn’t found the right material yet.  And SOURCE CODE does raise some intriguing notions about time travel including my favorite: that Colter actually isn’t going to the past.  He’s going to alternate Earths instead, since he’s creating new timelines that diverge from his taking over Sean’s body and attempting to change what has already happened.

Cool stuff, really.  I just wish it had entertained me more.  I do give SOURCE CODE props for being an actual science fiction film and not just a horror or action movie in sci-fi drag.  Still, I recommend giving this a viewing on a slow weekend if you really can’t find anything else that grabs your attention.

94 minutes

PG-13