23 December 2011

Reviews: The Descendants and The Ides of March

It hasn't been since 2005, when George Clooney thrilled us both with his performance in Syriana and with his directing and producing of Good Night, and Good Luck, that Mr. Clooney has given us such a powerful double-feature. This year, when Mr. Clooney acts in Alexander Payne's The Descendants and directs and produces (and acts) in his own The Ides of March, he allows us to see the advanced yet fledgling auteur that he means himself to be.

The Descendants - Genre: Drama

In his own span since his even earlier previous feature, Alexander Payne too is maturing as an auteur. His focus shifts from his previous work Sideways (2004) to this new film, from the tribulations of finding romanticism in middle age to the tribulations of maintaining it into the future. His The Descendants is thus at once a loaded and valedictive film, simultaneously a paean to the absolute and dauntless sunshine of rich rich entanglement as a dirge for the opaque and fading glower of richesse lost. In short, his screenplay is a tender and personal story that is certainly one of the year's most explorative narratives penned. Yet, for this explorative nature, the film suffers for a lack of polish, or for the certain ruggedness onto which it holds much like its lead character, deftly quietly played by Mr. Clooney, holds onto his rustic garb and principled ways. The interweaving of the storyline tracing his family's legal embattlement at times ripples with artifice, while the pacing in general moves in flashes and starts. Most importantly, the tone of the film is as if its writer and director couldn't decide whether to wholly embrace its potentially comedic nature or to abandon it for pure earnestness; the dilute mixture that is the result of this ambiguity leaves one at a hazy distance from the action, when frames push or pull too far or too near to the characters in passion and when glimpses of the broader spectrum of the characters lives intercede piquedness (as it is wont to do) between otherwise consecutive moments of joviality. Yet, while not always perfect, the film nevertheless retains, much like its characters, the redolent romanticism of usefulness and usedness that make it charming; the well-worn treads of the minds of the characters in the film - with nary an exception - show what they intend to show: strife in nominal paradise.

Grade: B+


The Ides of March - Genre: Drama

Surpassing Mr Payne's work in artfulness and fluidity as well as in patent savoir-faire, Mr. Clooney's own The Ides of March is a classically assembled piece of solid drama. Impossible to mistake itself for anything else, the film strides confidently through its motions, which despite their best description are not idle procedures but rather living tableaux of tension within the political arena (both as it may appear inside and outside the bedroom). In this way Mr. Papamichael's cinematography operates coherently, displaying only the hard angles and half-lights that capture the tenor and the distress of the film's action. Filling this space, Mr. Gosling, Mr. Hoffman, Mr. Clooney himself, and Mr. Giamatti (a close cousin by Payne-association) deliver excellent performances that are both as tense as ivory teeth clenching down on steel and as troubled as towers of kelp, barely clinging with but few roots to the ocean floor. The current of the film tests their mettle by pulling and shuffling them, occasionally bound up in one another, and then sets them apart as if in clean observance of their differences for the audience even if the internal spectators inside the film cannot too witness them. Though perhaps a bit more systematic than Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), The Ides of March is nevertheless a strong presentation of the polished and cerebral work that Mr. Clooney favors doing. I only hope that it will be recognized for this strength by others than myself.

Grade: A-

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