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No Need to Beware Clooney’s Ides of March; Black, Wilson, Marin Have An Engaging Big Year

Written by Mike Peros
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The best parts of George Clooney’s The Ides of March are those scenes centering on loyalty, betrayal and revenge—which is not surprising as the title is an allusion to a pivotal moment in the Roman political arena immortalized in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. While there is nothing that compelling on display here, Clooney’s (co-writing, directing, starring) film is a fairly enjoyable drama about a rising young junior campaign manager(Ryan Gosling) for Democratic presidential candidate Clooney—and what happens when some crises fall Gosling’s way--in the form of an invite (from a cool, calculating Paul Giamatti) to join the other team—and a casual fling with a campaign intern (Evan Rachel Wood) that leads to some unwanted revelations that could bring down candidate Clooney. The weakest parts have to do with Gosling’s savvy character’s first reactions to the news regarding his intern. It reminded me of supposedly sharp cop Andy Garcia’a over-the-top, shocked reaction in Night Falls on Manhattan when he learns that there’s (gasp!) corruption in the NYPD. In other words, how could the Gosling character—in this day and age—be so overcome by certain developments? However, once you get past that, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had in scenes involving Gosling and Philip Seymour Hoffman (whose monologue about loyalty is one of the best moments of the year), Gosling and Giamatti-especially when Giamatti reveals his Macchiavellian side, and in the climactic confrontation between Clooney and Gosling where each plays his hand—with no less than the future of the free world (perhaps I’m exaggerating) at stake.

As I sat in the fairly empty theater for the first few minutes of The Big Year, I was wondering if I should have joined the multitudes of moviegoers who elected not to come, but then slowly –and quite surely the film began to hook me. If you haven’t heard of it, The Big Year refers to obsessive birders (don’t call them birdwatchers) and a calendar year in which they compete to see who can find the most species in North America. A charmingly self-absorbed Owen Wilson is the master birder, while an engaging, appealing Jack Black (never thought I’d write that) is an enthusiastic-if financially challenged- would be next record holder who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Steve Martin’s retired corporate-type—who also wants to be the next master birder. David Frankel’s charming film isn’t big on laughs but it provides plenty of smiles, as well as picturesque locales (New Mexico, Alaska) for these birders to migrate. Martin and Black share a warm camaraderie as both yearn for their lives to mean something more than what life in the business world can offer. Wilson does a nice job as a man obsessed with protecting his legacy, even if it means sacrificing his personal life. In addition, Anjelica Huston is very funny as a boat captain with some issues of her own with Wilson, while Brian Dennehy provides some touching moments as Black’s father, a working man who is can’t bring himself to accept his son’s dreams—until some moving, nicely played moments near the end. If you’re among the many who haven’t seen it, you may want to give it a try—as long as you’re not expecting a laugh riot.

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