The Ides of March
Release Date: October 7, 2011
Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon (screenplay), Beau Willimon (play Farragut North)
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, George Clooney and Philip Seymour Hoffman
MPAA Rating: R
When you name your political drama The Ides of March, you create certain expectations for the viewer. With the title’s allusion to Julius Caesar, the audience may be waiting for Ryan Gosling to stab George Clooney on the steps of the Senate, but everyone does assume we are in for heavy doses of suspense and betrayal as the story unfold. The film does a good job delivering on both of those fronts and overall it’s a highly enjoyable film.
It opens in the days before the Ohio primary. Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is leading in the polls and is well on his way to the Democratic nomination. Sitting around a table in a bar in an opening scene, Morris’ campaign manager Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) tells reporter Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) off the record that he’s confident the Governor will win Ohio. Campaign staffer Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) makes an even bigger admission – he thinks Morris is the real deal, a truly great candidate who will win the election and go on to be a great president.
It doesn’t take long for beliefs to unravel. Since Ohio allows people to vote in primaries regardless of political affiliations, Republican pundits begin urging their followers to vote for Morris’ opponent, who is a weaker candidate and thus more easily beaten in the general election. Zara’s confidence begins to wane and it becomes clear that the Governor will have to make a few unpleasant compromises to secure the Democratic nomination.
Myers true believer status gets rattled as well. As Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the rival campaign manager, begins to court him and Myers is caught in the middle of dirty political maneuvering, it gets harder and harder to keep his idealistic enthusiasm. Then he learns some unsettling things about Governor Morris that begin to call everything he believes into question.
The acting in the film is obviously superb. Anytime you get George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti in your film, you know the acting is going to be on point. But what’s impressive is just how great a job Ryan Gosling does in the film. Gosling is surrounded by these phenomenal actors and yet the film rests squarely on his shoulders. And he doesn’t disappoint. He effortlessly draws the audience in and gets you to care about Stephen, which is the key to making the film work.
Evan Rachel Wood is also quite good as Molly Stearns, an intern on the campaign who quickly takes a liking to Myers. And Jeffrey Wright is highly enjoyable in his role as Senator Thompson, a Democrat who is using his powerful endorsement (and the delegates that come with it) as leverage to secure himself a cushy position post-election.
George Clooney directed the film, in addition to starring in it, and he does quite well on that front as well. There are a few really great shots in the film, including a fantastic one featuring silhouettes of Gosling and Hoffman with a giant American flag in the background as the two talk behind the scenes of a televised political debate. At times Clooney is overly fond of really tight close ups that feel a bit invasive and distracting, but overall he does a good job pacing the film and making it interesting visually.
It’s clear that Clooney and Co. want Morris to remind you of President Barack Obama, though I’m not sure to what end. Morris is a charismatic, relatively inexperienced candidate who has a lot of big ideas of how to change this country. Also, his religious background is in question with some voters. If those similarities don’t invoke Obama for you, Morris’ campaign posters, which are a blatant ripoff of Shepard Fairey’s Obama “Hope” posters, certainly will. I’m not entirely sure why they decided to draw such an obvious parallel to Obama, outside of the fact that it is topical and there is quite a lot of political unrest in this country right now. If they are attempting to make a bigger political statement than that with the comparison, it was lost on me.
Still, Obama comparisons aside, it’s a very enjoyable, well-made and well-acted film. The notion that politics get dirty and that ideologists will get warn down by the game is certain not a new one. But here it’s delivered in way that will keep the audience wanting to see what happens next. It may be politics as usual, but it’s still quite entertaining.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.