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- The Lunch with Justin Chang, Chief Film Critic for Variety: Down to the Wire on 2013 …
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Tag Archives: Ryan Gosling
It is a real and regular mistake to confuse the unblinking search for plot holes with real film criticism, and such a narrow-minded approach can only lead to madness: Why are these street gangs singing about a girl named Maria? Who hears Kane say ‘rosebud’ in an empty room? Why does Willard persist in his mission to find Kurtz? These are all logical questions posed about films that don’t revolve around logic, and suggest a shallow viewing at best.
At the same time, in the thriller, plot holes do matter, because unlike the woven tapestry of a drama or the crazy custard pie of comedy, a thriller is most like a machine — which is why the phrase “clockwork” or “tightly-wound” comes up so often in discussing them — where a single missing piece makes the whole enterprise grind to a halt. It’s always interesting to see people who don’t know how to make thrillers tackle them — or, rather, people who don’t know how precisely to make a thriller work — because they might, perhaps, be condescending to the genre: It’s just a thriller. How tough can it be? The answer to that is, well, Alfred Hitchcock is generally considered one of the greatest directors of all time. And he made nothing but thrillers, and he made them superbly.
Ides of March, the latest directorial effort from George Clooney, is a prime example. Expanding on Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, it follows the trials and tribulations — many of which are self-induced — of cynically idealistic campaign media man Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) as he encounters personal and political crises while trying to earn sitting governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) the Democratic presidential nomination. The film is substantively altered — and expanded — from Willimon’s play; in the play, intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood in the film) has an affair with Stephen’s superior on the behind-the-scenes campaign staff; in the film, it’s Clooney’s candidate — which leaves her pregnant. Stephen gives her money for an abortion, drives her to the clinic — and then gets caught up in his own problems, with the panicked Molly then taking an overdose of pills. The tragedy makes the campaign stumble — a horrible accident, pills and booze — but Gosling blackmails Clooney with the facts into a new and better job.
Which, bluntly, is where Ides of March falls apart, as Molly is found dead next to the very pill bottles she got with a prescription from an abortion clinic, and any cop or journalist who can read could phone the prescribing doctors and unleash a scandal that would dominate news cycles and irreparably damage Morris. (Worse, for all the film’s talk about Molly needing cash, you can see the clinic nurse handing Wood back a plastic card with her paperwork — whether it’s a credit card or a medical coverage card, either way, it’s also traceable.) Woody Allen did something similar in Match Point — another film that requires cops to not do autopsies, read diaries or accept anything other than the simplest explanation for a dead woman. Willimon co-wrote the screenplay with Clooney and Grant Heslov — and it’s hard to imagine one of the three of them not thinking through the ramifications of the script’s changes from the play, but that’s exactly what seems to have happened.
I admire Ides of March for its snap, for its sense of language, for the delight it takes, and makes, from actors like Gosling, Clooney, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei being profane and pragmatic — like a West Wing episode on steroids, crazed with rage — but the film’s misstep on a plot level, on the level of working as a thriller, was so damaging to me that it was less like a minor flaw in a garment and more like a hole in a boat that made it founder and sink. No, plot holes don’t matter as much in drama or musicals or in comedy — but they matter immeasurably in the clockwork guts of what’s supposed to be a thriller, where a gap of millimeters can make the film inert or shudder to a halt. The Ides of March is, for the most part, an entertaining political drama that works as a cautionary tale for power-seekers and power-brokers — but as a thriller, it’s more of cautionary tale to directors and screenwriters.
With his rippling voice and air of no-holds barred intelligence, Jeffrey Wright (“Source Code,” “The Manchurian Candidate”) plays Senator Thompson in George Clooney’s political thriller “The Ides of March.” Thompson has a few scenes — and only a few lines of dialogue — and it’s a tribute to Wright that he’s able to fill a seemingly small part with such verve and vigor. We spoke with Wright in Toronto about politics, working with Hollywood’s best-looking director and his take on 2012.
Aside from the fact that your director is better looking that usual, what’s it like working with Mr. Clooney? Obviously he’s got insight in acting, but are his technical chops there as a director?
Wright: Not yet, but I’m hoping.
No, but seriously.
Wright: I was serious. No, George — it was a fantastic experience. I never worked with him as a director. We were in ‘Syriana’ in separate tracks. He brings such a clarity and a calm to a movie set. That’s all you can hope for your director and a clear command of the vision. We as individual actors know our little component, but the director really has a clear command of the overall. They don’t always have that. George cowrote the piece, was acting and directing at the same time, and doing it with such ease that it was really mindblowing. He’s a wonderful director to work with.
I think it’s a line from Hillary Clinton that politicians campaign in poetry, but they govern in prose, and there’s a difference between speeches and actions. Your character, you have that incredibly blunt speech, and then you get to do this high-flying bit of language about the public nomination. Is it fun to play that contrast between the public and the private?
Wright: Absolutely. That was very much what I was trying to contrast. I think he’s the commentary on these guys: How genuine are you? Do you talk the talk and walk the walk? What I think happens too often — not always — is that these guys are willing to sacrifice the common interest, or the interest of the larger constituency, in terms of the interest of their own egos. My way of commenting on that was playing this contrast of the public and private persona.
It’s the fall of 2011 and all we’re getting is a lot of throat-clearing on the 2012 elections. Regardless of party, what could any politician say to win your vote and support in 2012?
Wright: I just want somebody who’s genuine. I think our current president is that. I think he’s well-intentioned; I think he’s thoughtful. I think there’s serious challenges the country’s facing. Obviously, we have to battle some of these economic issues, get some job growth out there. Bill Clinton said it best, if that’s right: It’s the economy, stupid. I usually look for someone who’s genuine, who’s not trying to pull the wool over my eyes and pander to the lowest common denominator, who’s trying to lead us to a better place.
Clad in a high-collared tan retro-dress and a pair of red-soled Louboutin shoes, Evan Rachel Wood is the model of a modern starlet as she talks about her role in “The Ides of March” — until she wants to talk about the paralysis of partisan politics in modern legislation. It’s rare to find the modern actor — regardless of gender — with a mind as clear as their skin, but Wood is that actor, and that intelligence — and, yes, a tempering hint of naiveté — is evident on-screen as she plays Molly, the Presidential-campaign intern whose romance with high-level campaign staffer Ryan Gosling opens up problems in George Clooney’s political thriller. We spoke with Wood in Toronto.
I feel like we can’t talk about the twists and turns of the plot too much because it might dilute the pleasures of the film for some people. When you were reading the script, were you going, ‘Oh my God?’
Wood: Absolutely. I didn’t see the play; I didn’t know the story. The storyline surrounding my character, there’s a lot of twists and turns that occur in that. I was shocked.
Do you feel like audiences won’t see it coming, either?
Wood: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of surprises in the film that no one’s going to see coming.
You’re playing an intern in a political campaign. Did you research that world? Did you get a taste of it? There’s documentaries and research materials, but did you go and look at that process and what it’s like or just go with what was on the page?
Wood: The story’s so great, the writing’s so great, it was really there. George gave a lot of the cast some great documentaries to watch, which show the behind-the-scenes with press on the campaigns and the interns. It’s a really interesting line of work, to get that close to a candidate and to see the evolution of where they go throughout the whole process. It’s clearly interesting. ‘Journeys with George’ was my favorite, I think. That’s an amazing documentary.
Your character is the lowest of the low on the food chain, but she’s also the daughter of the Democratic National Committee chairman. It’s the weird combination of privilege and lack of privilege. How do you play that?
Wood: I felt like my character has grown up in this world. It’s all she knows, so I think it was always assumed that this was what she’s going to do, and when she gets out of college she’s going to be an intern. She’s accepted this as her life. I think she’s still a 20-year-old girl and she’s still going to have her fun, and she’s not intimated by any of these men. I think she uses it to her advantage, really.
There’s an old and cynical line that politics is show business for ugly people. Did you find any similarities in the worlds?
Wood: Of course. I think a lot of politicians are some of the best actors in the world. You have to sell yourself to an entire country, you have to be entertaining, you have to be charismatic. That’s all like a show. I do see similarities, sometimes.
The film talks quite a lot about politics and idealism versus reality, campaigning versus the pros of getting elected. What could a candidate, regardless of party affiliation, say to you right now to earn your vote and your support in 2012?
Wood: I don’t know. I’m in a weird place where I think at this point it doesn’t matter who gets elected. I think the way this system’s built, they can’t govern the way they want to govern. It’s an uphill battle for anyone. I think a lot of things need to change, and I think people need to stop being so afraid. Things do need to evolve and need to change. I think we need to let go of some of our past ideas.
When you’re caught up in the madness of a film festival like this, is it very easy to forget about the actual work? When you’re busy doing press and worrying about what to wear, is the hubbub worth the hassle?
Wood: Absolutely. Something like this is fun. I’m so proud of this movie, and the cast is amazing. I love doing press and touring with these guys is amazing. I try to have fun with it, and it’s fun to play dress-up. It’s whatever.
In “Ides of March,” Ryan Gosling plays a talented young political operative working under older and seemingly more-experienced peers like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney, occasionally earning the upper hand; it’s not an entirely inappropriate metaphor. Gosling’s here at Toronto with not one but two films — “Drive” is playing the festival as well — and even with the festival serving as a fairly triumphant homecoming for the Canadian-born actor, he’s calm and relaxed when we talked about politics, preparation and how having George Clooney as your director means more than just working with the best-looking director you’ve ever taken direction from.
There’s an old and mean saying that politics is show business for ugly people. When you learned about this world for this film, did you see similarities between what you do and what these political consultants and campaigners do?
Gosling: There’s some similarities, but at the end of the day the decisions we make don’t kill anybody potentially. There’s no one’s lives at risk at our job.
How do you get that kind of gravity, that intensity that you have in the moments of a political campaign? How do you recreate that as an actor?
Gosling: I don’t know specifically what you do. I think that’s the trick is that you’re trying to get that. We watched a lot of these documentaries that were on the campaign trails: ‘Journeys with George,’ and there was one for the Obama campaign. We tried to keep watching those to give ourselves a sense of what the relationships were on campaign trails. At the end of the day, it’s not really a very accurate political film, because it’s not a political movie; there’s not a political message. It’s just a thriller that uses politics as a backdrop. It could be set on Wall Street or in Hollywood. …
When you’re watching Mr. Clooney at work, he’s assembled this great technical team like Stephen Mirrione, the editor. When you’re watching him direct — aside from the fact that he’s probably the best looking director you’ve worked with — do you look at him and go, ‘Yeah, I could maybe do that; this is something I could work towards one day?’
Gosling: He’s a very impressive guy. It’s hard to feel that way at the end of the day. You end up feeling like I could never do that. He’s writing, he’s producing, he’s directing, he’s starring in, he’s got his work in Sudan, he’s got three to five practical jokes in the works at any given moment, and then he’s checking scores on the game. He’s doing everything all the time. I could never do that.
Right now we’re in this incredibly tedious period of throat-clearing before the 2012 elections, even though it’s in the fall. Regardless of affiliation, regardless of party, what could a candidate say right now to earn your support and your vote for 2012?
Gosling: I don’t know. I don’t really like to talk about politics in this forum. I don’t think you should talk about politics in sound bites. Or I shouldn’t, anyway.
Politics so often gets distilled to bumper stickers, which is the worst possible medium for it.
You’re here with ‘Ides of March,’ and you also have ‘Drive.’ Is it half the work or doubling or cubing? Is it easier or harder?
Gosling: You have to apply the five rule. If it’s odd, you have to add a five. If it’s even, you add seven and a zero.
Having two films at Toronto, the only way to calculate the increased effort is to convert it to metric?
Gosling: (Laughing) Yeah.
Adapting Beau Willimon’s play “Farragut North” for the big screen, George Clooney’s “Ides of March” starts so strongly — from the jump, it’s an truly entertaining mix of Aaron Sorkin and Sidney Lumet, where idealism and pragmatism fight dirty in the dimmer corners of the halls of power — that the film’s mis-steps later on are not just disappointing but depressing. Clooney has, as in his earlier films, assembled an amazing cast here. Ryan Gosling is a political operative under Phillip Seymour Hoffman trying to get George Clooney’s Governor Morris the Democratic Presidential nomination, with Max Minghella and Evan Rachel Wood as junior staffers, Marisa Tomei as a member of the press and Paul Giamatti as Hoffman’s opposite for the other contender.
Casting, however, isn’t filming, and while Clooney has — as ever — assembled a superb technical staff, the screenplay is where things go awry. Cinematographer Phaedon Pappamichael (“Sideways,” “Walk the Line,” “Knight and Day”) captures the wintry haze of battleground state Ohio and the plywood pomp-and-circumstance of the modern campaign trail, while editor Stephen Mirrione (“Traffic,” “Ocean’s 13,” “Go”) cuts the close-clipped conversations superbly. Clooney-as-director also earns credit for opening the play up visually, walking the line between showy excess and artlessly hurling theatrical blocking up on-screen. (A moment where we slide in and out of three parallel offices as information passes back and forth is superb, as is a hidden meeting in the shabby privacy of a shaded stairwell.)
The jostle and bump of public pronouncements and private secrets, of press releases and closely-held information is a major part of the fun and charm of the film. At the same time, with no small sense of regret, it must be said there’s a hole in the plot of “The Ides of March,” and while it cannot be discussed in great detail for fear of ruining the film’s central set of surprises and secrets, it is also so clumsy and gigantic that it is less like a pinhole in a cup that lets in disbelief and more like a gaping chasm in the side of a plane that results in a crash. (Let’s just say that, for “Ides of March” to work as written, cops, coroners and journalists in Ohio have to be remarkably incurious illiterates with poor vision.) Willimon, Clooney and frequent Clooney collaborator Grant Heslov adapted Willimon’s play — and changed it substantially — and the fact that three separate set of eyes didn’t catch so glaring a problem is both human and disheartening.
Some will suggest that a picayune obsession with plot details is beneath an ambitious political drama about tactics and cynics, polling and governing; I think that if “Ides of March” is going to take a certain dramatic route — especially a dramatic route like that of a thriller, where one mistake can mean disaster — it needs to be as cautious of the potential for disaster in that route as it is excited about the possibilities that route offers. And bluntly, there are moments here that are so very good — like Gosling, livid and silent, thinking a mile a minute while his heart is stopped dead, for one example, a conversation between candidate Clooney and his supportive-but-stressed wife Jennifer Ehle for another — and I could watch scenes of Giamatti and Hoffman being profane and pointed, brusque and blunt, outraged and outrageous, all day.
“Ides of March,” for the most part, is an engaging and exciting look at the machine that grinds and jolts beneath the smoother images offered up in public forums and campaign ads, and at the people behind political candidates. It also, like any politician, makes promises that soar on wings of language to suggest it can do the job, and it’s too bad that the brief-but-significant very real plot problems in the film make it feel a little like a lame duck with a crippled wing.
At the end of Cannes, everyone’s looking for a little bit of a release from the serious social commentary and inspirational art of some of the films — and this year, they got it with “Drive,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s crime thriller starring Ryan Gosling (“Blue Valentine,” “The Notebook”) as a driver-for-hire in both Hollywood and L.A.’s underworld. Speaking with Gosling the next day beachside, the 30-year-old actor was a little taken aback by the crowd’s reaction to the film the night before. “I was shocked. I didn’t expect people to cheer. They almost started dancing at one point toward the end. I didn’t expect it to be so much … I didn’t expect people to have so much fun. But I think you’re right: It does have a lot to do with the timing.”
I asked Gosling what it was like to do the rehearsals and run-throughs for a Cannes premiere; he smiled. “I had spent the night before — at 2 a.m. we went to the Palais …” — Cannes’ main building — “… just 5 or 6 of us, and we went and sat and watched a little bit of the print to check the color and to check the sound. Apparently they only go to 7, but we made them go up to 7.5. ”
“It was a very special experience to get to be there alone and see the film, walk around in the theatre while it was empty. It made going there the next day less nerve-wracking. Then, of course, REO Speedwagon’s (‘I Can’t Fight this Feeling Anymore’ is) playing when we came down the red carpet. I was wearing a blue tuxedo, and I felt like me and Nic (Refn) were going to prom. Then everyone seemed to have so much fun in the screening. It was a magical night.”
Gosling — who hand-picked Refn to direct “Drive” — feels like the film is both a great action film and a commentary on action films, describing his character Driver as “… someone who’s seen too many movies. It feels to me like he’s someone who had seen so many movies that they began to confuse their own life for one.” At the same time, Driver’s not a traditional action-hero full of one-liners and snappy dialogue. “A lot of action movie heroes are full of bluster. The only time he says he’s going to kick somebody’s ass is when he means it; otherwise he can be a little girl. He doesn’t come on to the girl (Carey Mulligan) very hard. We never really talked about those classic archetypical characters, ‘the strong silent type.’ Every time I started talking — maybe it was just me — but it didn’t feel right.”
I asked Gosling about Driver and how the movie is short on any ‘backstory,’ for Driver, which made me wonder if Gosling thought about the character that way. He smiled. “I’m used to figuring out the minutia of the character, and Nicolas could care less. He wants to think in dream logic. The film was so freeing to think that way — that this movie’s a dream that’s turning into a nightmare, and we’re experiencing this story from inside the driver’s world. This could be his fantasy or his nightmare; it’s not literal, so we didn’t really think about those things.”
Working with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, Ryan Gosling had no worries about trying to capture L.A.’s nighttime world with a foreign film maker. “I think it was a nice chemistry, because my favorite thing to do in Los Angeles is drive around at night and listen to music. I like listening to Art Laboe, who’s this guy — you know him? He does this show where families call in to their other family members who are in prison, and they dedicate songs to one another. Some woman will dedicate a song to a guy named Winky who’s getting out in six months, — ‘Stay safe and keep his head down.’ I started taking Nic into that world, which is driving around at night and listening to music and this spell that the car puts you under: You get in the car, you turn the key, and then suddenly you’ve arrived at your destination, and you don’t remember how you got there, that trance that it puts you in. And the movie became more about driving than stunts, and it became more about being in the car than the car itself.”
Gosling’s character may not say much, but the actor clearly has plenty to say about his work: “I think we tried to make a werewolf movie without the makeup. There’s a violence in (Driver) that he’s afraid of, and I think he’s in a race to try and find a good cause that he can channel it into before it turns on him.” And as for the connection his character has with Carey Mulligan’s single mom Irene, “It’s a nonsexual connection. That’s what I think is the key for us. When we took out the sexuality, it became more about that he was her knight and his duty was to serve her in any way — and to die for her — that was his destiny. She was a princess locked in the tower, and he needed to defend her and slay a dragon.”
Less metaphorically, Gosling also learned how to drive — really drive — for the film, even if he couldn’t do quite as many of his own stunts as he wanted to. “It was frustrating because I had learned how to actually do the stunts, so I wanted to do them. You have to shoot them and you have to set up rigs and lights, and that part of it was frustrating. But it does look beautiful. The process of learning how to drive was pretty exciting. Working with our stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott, we go into this church parking lot. There’d be a new Camaro or a new Mustang, and we would do stunts until it started smoking, or catch on fire. Then some tow truck would take it away and we’d go home and wait until they found us another car. I’ve never had more fun on a film — never. It’s hard because it’s a skill that you can’t use; it’s a hobby you can’t really indulge. There’s nowhere to do it.”
So, I asked Gosling, let’s suggest that this movie makes a lot of money — and someone suggests a sequel. Would he be interested at all in getting behind the wheel again? Gosling’s face lights up with a mix of enthusiasm and loyalty. “Only if Nic does. I’d never do it without him.
Look at what he did with the ‘Pusher’ trilogy; I’ve never seen anyone do that …” Gosling’s face turns into a mischievous smile as fast as a bootlegger’s turn: “Maybe we direct it together and there’s a different driver. …” “Drive” will come to theaters this fall.