REVIEW: The Ides of March [2011]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 101 minutes | Release Date: October 5th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Columbia Pictures / Sony Pictures Releasing
Director(s): George Clooney
Writer(s): George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon / Beau Willimon (play “Farragut North”)

“My name is Molly”

To someone with limited interest and knowledge in politics like me, it seems an intriguing choice for a self-described political liberal who backed Barack Obama on his presidential campaign like George Clooney to tackle the subject matter of Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North. Based in part on the 2004 Democratic primary run of Howard Dean—who Willimon worked for—it depicts an idealistic, platform-driven candidate with an integrity the American public can rally around. With Shepard Fairey influenced posters of his visage, Clooney’s Governor Mike Morris appears to be the ‘right’ choice to steer his country towards progress. I don’t believe the allusions to Obama’s own idyllic image are unintentional or subtle by any means, so why would Clooney actively disseminate a tale of corruption, back-door deals, and amorality worse than the concessions his character refuses to make? Perhaps the art and strength of story trumped any personal allegiances; maybe politics have simply left a sour taste in this auteur’s mouth. Either way, Clooney’s The Ides of March pulls no punches.

Loyalty plays a huge role in the script written by Willimon, Clooney, and frequent collaborator Grant Heslov. The story of young upstart Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), we’re introduced to this campaign manager as his cutthroat maneuverings have been quelled by adulation for his candidate. This isn’t just a job—he believes in Morris and win or lose knows he is the only American with the ability to instill change. Second-in-command behind campaign stalwart Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the two have complete faith in winning the ever-important swing state of Ohio and take a cautiously optimistic seat to wait for the inevitable success. But while Zara meets with Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) to ‘sew up’ an endorsement, Meyers receives a call from his opponent’s manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Speaking to the effect he has important information, the fact he bypassed Zara gives Steve pause. Not enough to refuse the meeting, though.

The details shared in this recruitment move spell the beginning of the end for Morris’ run to the White House. Plans to target Republican voters to help the ‘weaker’ candidate win in hopes their eventual choice has an easier time later on are discussed as well as the inside knowledge that Thompson has already been bought. It appears a ruse has been orchestrated to woo Stephen to the other side by dangling a sure victory. But while he remains quiet about the meet for too long—making Zara’s play for the senator futilely continue—Meyers will not quit. He has too much riding on this race professionally and personally to switch sides. Morris is his president. Despite good intentions, however, politics have never been a forgiving occupation. When Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) hounds him and a boss in Zara feels betrayed, all the talent in the world won’t save him from the hostile back-stabbing and parasitic nature of the game.

The taut thriller continues on its path of twists and turns as Meyers realizes he isn’t as experienced as he thinks. The concept of friendship is revealed as a smokescreen and loyalty becomes a word that only goes one way. Once Evan Rachel Wood’s Molly Stearns enters the fray—daughter to the DNC leader played by Gregory Itzin—Meyers’ internal conflict continues as the line between decency and corruption dissolves. That cutthroat nature which earned him the moniker of best media mind in the business returns as his drive to win overshadows the goals and sanctity of office he cultivated through Morris. He finally reconciles the fact that he will go as far as necessary to achieve what he believes—as long as he believes it. Whether the events transpiring here cloud his views of Morris, Zara, Duffy, et al or not, deep inside his heart lies the confidence that his man will make a difference in the Oval Office.

It’s a nuanced turn by Gosling—another 2011 entry to prove he is one of the best thirty-year olds working in the business today. His trademark charisma, (Crazy, Stupid, Love.), comes through as well as the stoically silent introspection we’ve seen more of lately, (Drive). His character goes through an emotional roller coaster weighing options and understanding the consequences of his actions. What he’s made to do may seem too much considering the film spans one city on a countrywide tour, but I can almost forgive it due to the source material’s origins on the stage. Incidents playing crucial roles did occur in other cities, but to have all fallout centered on one location can appear contrived if you’re not careful. Luckily Gosling shoulders the load and is surrounded by a stellar cast. Between Wood’s confidence turned vulnerability, Hoffman’s subtly stern explosions, and Clooney’s own bottomless wealth of charm to make way for the darkness hidden beneath, The Ides of March never refrains from accelerating faster towards the cliff on its horizon.

But the underlying feature that truly captivated me was seeing Clooney direct a serious exposé behind the closed doors of the political system in this way. This isn’t Alec Baldwin mocking Conservatives in “30 Rock” by playing one, nor is it a Democrat projecting the corruption of DC as a diatribe against opponents. Shady dealings occur on both sides of the fence and the despicable nature of the business is unchecked by everyone besides those involved. We can wrestle with pros and cons, align ourselves with the lesser of two evils, and compromise morality for the greater good as we sit back and watch our media-run platform of choice. But what about those involved in the day-to-day? For Stephen Meyers, the idealism of youth and success can only shield so long before the ‘good guys’ finally take their catastrophic hubristic decent back to the cesspool of Earth. Is he willing to live with the truth and spin it like the rest?

“Beware the Ides of March”, indeed—you never know when you’ll become the one holding the knife.

[2] (l to r, front to back)Governor Morris (George Clooney) and his team – Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Ben (Max Minghella) and Stephen (Ryan Gosling) head out after the Town Hall meeting in Columbia Pictures’ political thriller THE IDES OF MARCH. Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani ©2011 IDES FILM HOLDINGS, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
[3] Evan Rachel Wood and Ryan Gosling star in Columbia Pictures’ IDES OF MARCH. Photo by Saeed Adyani. �2011 IDES FILM HOLDINGS, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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