WITH the US presidential campaign in full swing, The Ides of March (Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie One) must be rated essential viewing. It’s a consistently engrossing political thriller directed by George Clooney, who also plays Mike Morris, the smooth-talking governor of Pennsylvania, a contender for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. It occurred to me that with a switch of party labels the film would work just as well as a study of Republican politics, with Clooney a natural to play Mitt Romney. Governor Morris may be a shade more handsome than Governor Mitt, but there’s not much in it, and their campaigns, like all campaigns, have a lot in common — past indiscretions, cover-ups, compromises and much airy rhetoric about the future of America. Ryan Gosling is superbly offputting as Stephen Meyers, a brilliant young aide in the Morris camp, with Philip Seymour Hoffman at his best as a dour and devious adviser. The Ides of March can be seen as Clooney’s darker version of The Candidate, Robert Redford’s classic film about Democratic politics, made in 1972. Not a great deal has changed in 40 years.
Terrence Malick is a director noted for long gestation periods between films. There was a five-year gap between Badlands and Days of Heaven, then a 20-year wait for The Thin Red Line. So many were surprised when his latest, To the Wonder, previewed at this year’s Venice film festival a year after the release of The Tree of Life (Tuesday, 5.55pm, Showtime Premiere), his enigmatic and visionary meditation on the mysteries of love and existence. The Tree of Life is the story of a suburban Texas family in the 1950s, ruled over by Brad Pitt’s loving, authoritarian father (a part originally offered to Heath Ledger). The father has some oldfashioned ideas about family discipline, but whenever his sons feel oppressed or unhappy they turn for love and comfort to their mother (Jessica Chastain), the very image of maternal grace. The most dazzling sequence is an extended montage tracing the origins of the universe, the big bang and the first appearance of life on earth, culminating in the birth of a child. Each of us will take what we can from this sequence — if indeed we take anything at all.
Ray Lawrence, like Malick, is another director noted for long waits between films. Which is why it was such a pleasure in 2001 to greet Lantana (Saturday, 8.30pm, Movie Greats), his first in 16 years, a series of interlocking stories about four contemporary Sydney couples who find themselves drawn into a web of mystery and intrigue, culminating in the death of a woman. The superb cast includes Anthony LaPaglia, Kerry Armstrong and Rachael Blake. I’ve written before that Lantana is for me the best film made in this country — mature, intelligent, adult in the best sense and never less than absorbing — and I’ll be surprised if another viewing should change my mind.
(M) ★★★★✩ Sunday, 8.30pm, Movie One
(M) ★★★★★ Saturday, 8.30m, Movie Greats
(M) ★★★★✩ Tuesday, 5.55pm, Showtime Premiere
Rachael Blake in