Review: The Ides of March

It might not be an election year, but politics never take a break from being cutthroat. “The Ides of March” peels back the curtain on election campaigns, in this case those of two Democrats vying for their party’s nomination. Based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon, who had a hand in the screenplay, “Ides” tells you everything you’ve always assumed but chosen to remain ignorant of regarding the political machine. Frank and whip-smart if not a bit esoteric, George Clooney’s latest directorial effort provides ample intellectual fodder bolstered by a terrific ensemble.

Clooney plays Michael Morris, a North Carolina governor and political idealism incarnate, essentially a caricature of Obama rhetoric (though the 2008 play was based loosely on the Howard Dean campaign). But he’s not the focus: Rather it’s his main staffer, Stephen, (Ryan Gosling) who gets the spotlight ,as well as campaign manager Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Morris simply serves as that point of reference reminding us what the polished exterior of a political campaign looks feels like.

The seemingly omnipresent Gosling utilizes his fittingly Clooney-like charisma as Stephen, but without milking it. His character’s “loss of political innocence” and consequent sharp left turn end up much more believable. Stephen is a hotshot who’s far from a rookie in attitude and behavior, but hasn’t been through the grinder like campaign manager Paul and their rival, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti).

Stephen still has his convictions, for example, believing completely in his candidate and the Kool-aid he’s serving. So he finds himself in a bit of trouble when he agrees to a meeting with Duffy and learns some valuable information that could completely tilt a pivotal Ohio primary that’s just one week away. With his loyalty in question after his meeting leeks to their chummy reporter at the New York Times (Marisa Tomei), Stephen also starts an affair with a campaign intern named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) and later learns a secret that will make him question all of it.

“Ides” takes the viewer behind the scenes into an ugly and somewhat superficial world. There’s a bit of a soap-opera glamorization to various elements of the plot (affairs, back-stabbing, deception, etc.), but the actors hold it down with integrity. Vets Hoffman and Giamatti in particular give the film its backbone as two hard-nosed guys as blunt as the film’s feelings on politics. Gosling and Wood demonstrate as much talent as any young actors working today, though Gosling’s stardom should be a foregone conclusion at this point.

Clooney excels at taking us on Stephen’s journey and creating accessibility where the script lays on thick jargon. Various scenes that simply show Morris out on the campaign delivering a speech seem to meander, but Clooney understands that we must be exposed enough to Morris’ public image to identify with that glitzy side of politics we get every couple years. Therefore, when all the new “info” comes to light, our perspective of Morris transforms so drastically it’s fascinating to track.

“The Ides of March” asks that we accept certain truths about human nature and shows how the nature of politics feeds on some of our darker and more self-serving inclinations. Even as we take up arms along with Stephen’s crusade to correct the (arguable) injustices thrust upon him, we can’t help but to admit he has far from the clean record that a typical protagonist carries. Some might see the film’s end as the beginning of a new chapter cut short, but it holds out hope that cycles of corruption feeding corruption do have the power to end.


4.5/5 Stars


The Ides of March
Directed by George Clooney
Written by George Clooney, Grant Haslov, Beau Willimon (also play, “Farragut North”)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood


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