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The Ides of March: Exquisitely Acted Political Drama
Stephen (Gosling) is a charismatic, young politician working as a junior campaign manager for Governor Morris (Clooney). Morris’ team, headed by his campaign manager Paul (Hoffman), work around the clock to clinch the vote in Ohio against a rival democratic senator. If won, this would pretty much guarantee Morris a nomination as the democratic presidential candidate and a large possibility of top White House jobs for both Paul and Stephen.
While The Ides of March may be actor/director/screenwriter/producer George Clooney’s passion project, but acting-wise this is Gosling’s film and he’s phenomenal. His character starts out as an idealistic believer in the power of clean politics, whose core is rocked when he discovers that everyone he’s surrounded by is corrupt in one way or the other. Completely shaken, he finds himself morphing into one of the pack, playing dirty with the best of them.
The film is pretty engaging despite the amount of dialogue and the stodgy subject matter. For the most part, the plot is pretty straightforward, though there are some details that may fly over the heads of the less politically inclined. However, Stephen’s transformation should be more than enough to keep everyone interested, in addition to the small romantic arc between him and Molly (Wood). The Gosling/Wood pairing is electric. They crackle on screen together, play off of each other perfectly and are a joy to watch. Wood does a great job, despite being given an underwritten and inconsistent character, turning her character into the most human of all the politicians and her scenes with Gosling the most memorable of the entire film.
For a film that’s very specifically about American politics and that doesn’t tone down the political lingo, it’s surprising how entertaining it is even for those that may find politics boring. The editing and pacing lend the endless phone calls and meetings a sense of urgency that conveys how all consuming these things are in real life. They also keep the film zippy and prevent it from sagging under the weight of all the suits and ties. And while Stephen is probably the only truly fleshed out character, the cast is populated with some excellent actors that make their characters interesting.
They would try anything as if they had no fear of failure. They weren’t afraid of screwing up because the process and the act of creation were the important parts; if the product ended up sucking it was no big deal because they’d already be at work on the next piece. At least that’s the vibe that the documentary gives off. It also helps that the modern day, grown-up No Wavers seem every bit as cool as they did back then.
Titled from a popular term which describes the early transfer of a young offender from a juvenile detention facility to an adult penitentiary, Starred Up is by no means an easy watch. However, as much as it is difficult to digest at times, there is a certain poetic beauty behind its seemingly violent and destructive quality that makes it difficult to look away from.
Shot within the walls of an abandoned Belfast prison, the film opens with troubled nineteen-year-old Eric Love (O’Connell) undergoing an embarrassing admittance process, involving a complete body strip down, as he’s transferred into an adult reformatory.
Immediately marked as a “single cell, high risk” type detainee, it doesn’t take long for Eric – whose frequent and violent outbursts got him relocated there in the first place – to stir up trouble and make enemies both with fellow inmates and security guards.
After a mistaken attack on another inmate lands the young delinquent into the disciplinary hands of the law, Eric is soon approached – and rescued – by the in-house therapist, Oliver Braumer (Friend), who believes that he can help the young man rehabilitate.
Unfortunately, getting to the root of Eric’s problems - and getting him to open up - is no easy task and Oliver - together with the other rehabilitating convicts - often find themselves the targets of both verbal and physical abuse. To top it off, Eric has to find a way to learn to share the walls of his new confinements with his estranged father, Nev (Mendelsohn), who is currently serving a life-sentence in the same prison.
Penned by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Asser – a former prison psychotherapist whose own experience with the British penal-system adds a hefty dose of authenticity and realism to the film – Starred Up, told through a series of wordless and violent expositions, is fuelled with gripping intensity which is hard to shake off. Relying on action, rather than words, the uniqueness – and the heart - of the story lies with the father-son narrative, whose bonding difficulties are depicted through the oppressiveness of life in prison.
Contributing to the movie’s relentless and uncompromising approach to despair and violence, O’Connell – mostly known for his role in the British TV-series Skins and recently seen as the lead in Angelina Jolie’s war-drama Unbroken – is an absolute standout; feral and unpredictable, his performance carries the film, while Mendelsohn is equally superb as a man whose persona and motives are seemingly hard to read.
Powerful, emotional but never too sentimental, Starred Up is a true British-prison drama classic whose quietly yielding power and passion for storytelling will leave you feeling captivated and moved.