With debates heating up and the presidential election a year away, George Clooney releases his indictment of the political machine. The Ides of March has a lot to say about current politics, mostly about campaigns, but the film is a piece of entertainment first, acting as a tense dialogue-driven thriller. There is a temptation to dismiss the film based on perceived biases, and I’m sure there are a few more liberal ideas presented than not. However, the movie does show both sides of the coin and eventually reveals what many characters from the HBO program The Wire know all too well, “the game is rigged.”
The supernova hot Ryan Gosling (physically and career-wise) stars as Stephen Meyers, the hot-shot campaign manager for Governor Mike Morris, played by George Clooney. Clooney also co-wrote, produced and directed the film, which is based on Beau Willimon’s play, Farragut North. The governor is the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination when his campaign hits a few snafus before the all important Ohio primary.
The first half of the film is its strongest. The dialogue and pace are brisk as the political stage is set quite handsomely. It’s a very nice window into the entire behind-the-scenes wrangling that takes place for such an event. Every angle is covered, every speech analyzed, and every detail labored over in a flurry of fun Sorkin-esque scenes. The cast is ridiculous, including Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as rival managers, as well as Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood in smaller but equally important roles.
The movie really belongs to Gosling, though. It’s actually very similar to his Drive performance, not that the characters are similar but that he conveys about 90% of what you need to know with just his eyes. Once you get over Left, Right and Center, which is really just window dressing, there’s a great character arc that tells the real story of Ides and Gosling nails it. He goes from idealism to disillusion to soullessness and never looks back.
My only complaint involves the Evan Rachel Wood intern sub-plot. My problem isn’t that interns and powerful men are rather cliché this day and age, which says a lot about our country anyways. My problem is that these bits are a tad overcooked and melodramatic. I felt it went a few steps too far past what was necessary.
Still, the film is so well built, pulling from a very talented pool, that it powers through and finishes strong. I’m still thinking about the final shot which is one of the year’s best. Ides isn’t trying to open your eyes to anything you don’t know already, but it is a very enjoyable ride through the machine that leaves everyone dirty.