First Night: The Ides Of March, Venice Film Festival

view gallery VIEW GALLERY
3.00

Good-guy George Clooney shows his corrupt side...

There's a curiously old-fashioned air to George Clooney's latest feature, which opened the 68th Venice Film Festival yesterday.

Adapted from the play Farragut North, by Beau Willimon, the film harks back to the character-driven political thrillers that Michael Ritchie and Alan J Pakula used to make in the early 1970s during the Watergate era – films like The Candidate and The Parallax View.

Extremely well-crafted and acted, the film was warmly enough received at yesterday's screening. But it lacks that sense of political idealism and indignation that made Clooney's earlier directorial effort, Good Night, and Good Luck so stirring.

Clooney gives a dispiriting sense that US politics is such a venal and corrupt arena that no one can hold on to their integrity. The film begins with the campaign manager Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) testing the mics before a political debate featuring Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), a Democrat hopeful for the presidency. Meyers cynically races through Morris's speech. A few moments later, the same words are delivered by Morris himself. Clooney looks absolutely the part as a presidential hopeful, railing eloquently against religious bigotry and America's obsession with oil.

Early scenes, showing the hectic behind-the-scenes world of a Democratic campaign, rekindle memories of The War Room, the celebrated DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus documentary about Bill Clinton's campaign team. The strategists Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Meyers are every bit as colourful and as Machiavellian as real-life prototypes like Clinton's advisers James Carville and George Stephanopoulos.

However, as the film progresses, the storytelling changes tack. This turns into an embroiled drama about loyalty, blackmail and illicit sex with the intern (Evan Rachel Wood). The bigger picture – the brave new America that Meyers hopes his candidate Morris will deliver – becomes ever more clouded as the dirty tricks kick in. The plotting is complex. No one's behaviour is ever quite what it seems. When the campaign manager (Paul Giamatti) for a rival candidate makes friendly overtures toward Meyers, we very quickly realise that his intentions are not benign. What starts as a political drama moves into film noir territory. The look of the film darkens.

The screenplay, by Clooney and his regular collaborator, Grant Heslov, makes some trenchant points about the ambiguous relationship between politicians and the press – a relationship that oscillates between sycophancy and hostility. It is also funny and observant about the circus-like aspect of a US presidential campaign. This is a world in which even the idealistic candidate with the JFK smile turns out to be as tainted as anyone else.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn