Reporting Eric Henderson
If games can be considered toys, then the Machiavellian machinations at the heart of the new political thriller The Ides of March are like holding a primary election at Children’s Palace. And the results are not particularly less juvenile than the father-son quality time at the heart of the mostly moronic Real Steel.
Is this just a knee-jerk response to two movies that, basically, don’t seem to have time for female characters? Perhaps a little bit, and it’s unfair to approach both movies with that mindset given almost any other weekend at the box-office would offer similar demographic one-sidedness.
But, man, is The Ides of March ever a sausage fest. George Clooney’s latest directorial effort (following the artistic successes of Good Night, and Good Luck and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and the … interesting misfire Leatherheads) is the first movie he’s helmed that doesn’t seem at least partially enraptured in nostalgia for a (slightly) earlier era.
If Dangerous Mind saw the ’70s as a drug-fueled romper room and Good Night cast the ’50s as an era where mass media knights in shining armor slew congressional dragons, March is all about the tragedy of growing up amid a system that corrupts.
Ryan “Yes, I Am Going To Star In Every Movie This Year And, Yes, I Am Going To Be The Best Thing In All Of Them” Gosling is the one who runs the gauntlet, playing a hotshot campaign manager for a Clintonian Democratic presidential hopeful (Clooney, using his silky suavity to unnerving effect). Gosling is surrounded by sour, dyspeptic older men whose years on various (predominately losing) Dem campaigns have left them suspicious, vindictive and self-defeating.
Gosling’s “Yes We Can” optimism is at stake as his campaign locks horns in “friendly fire” with supposed political allies in the form of competing Democratic candidates. Ultimately, The Ides of March suggests that growing up means getting muddy in the schoolyard.
Similarly, fatherhood in the mostly moronic but fitfully emotive sci-fi family pic Real Steel means letting go of your own personal responsibility and making sure your own children are given every opportunity to live out their own silly dreams.
Jackman’s stars Hugh Jackman as a loser ex-fighter who is apparently allergic to winning. Set in a future roughly 30 years distant, Real Steel plays against a background of robot boxing, which is so popular it seems to be buttressing the economy up and down, from the skuzziest little back alley bouts to the headlining gladiator-bot duels in Vegas.
Jackman is reunited with his 11-year-old son, who he allows to tag along as he pirates dumping grounds for spare parts. Eventually (and by “eventually,” I mean “immediately”) his son reveals his own love for the gearhead sporting life. Like that, they’re shopping their pet WALL-E on steroids on the circuit, bonding like bros.
Which is really sweet. I mean it. The movie itself is a cacophonous mess that tries to meld Michael Bay’s Transformers noise with executive producer Steven Spielberg’s sentimental soft spot for reunited nuclear family units. And if it’s entirely by-the-numbers pop filmmaking, at least it seems wise to the notion that men never truly leave the playground behind.