Reviews

The Ides Of March

4

George Clooney wants your vote...

Ideas of March

You got something the other guys don’t have,” Paul Giamatti tells Ryan Gosling in The Ides Of March. “You exude something. You draw people in.”

Giamatti is talking about Gosling’s character Stephen Meyers, an idealistic press secretary whose success at propelling a Democratic candidate towards the Presidency has made his Republican rival jittery enough to try and woo him to the opposing camp.

Yet it’s hard not to use the same words to describe Gosling himself, so compelling a presence he’s become in what seems like only a few short years.

So it’s tempting to see this polished political thriller as a symbolic handing of the torch from one generation to another: silver fox George Clooney – director, producer, co-scripter – magnanimously gifting a platform for the fresh face on the Hollywood block. But Clooney the film star isn’t going down without a fight.

Which probably explains why Clooney the director has cast himself as Mike Morris, the charismatic governor whose campaign Meyers is orchestrating in the run-up to a pivotal primary in the great state of Ohio.

The only way is ethics

Clooney’s fourth venture behind the camera is a warts-and-all look at running for office that gradually transforms into a modern morality tale about the price of ambition and the corruption of power. But just who is Morris – a centre-left people pleaser with sufficient charm to make his socialistsounding policies palatable to the masses – supposed to be?

Playwright Beau Willimon, on whose 2008 piece, Farragut North, the film is based, served on the short-lived presidential bid of Howard Dean, whose 2004 run was scuppered by a notorious gaffe that became known as the “I Have A Scream” speech.

Yet Morris’ poster transparently riffs on the “Hope” one that Shepard Fairey designed for Obama, while a scandalous plot development involving Evan Rachel Wood’s flirty intern is so clearly inspired by Clinton’s extramarital conduct she should be named Lonica Mewinsky.

But as its Shakespearean title suggests, The Ides Of March has more on its mind than debate prep and process. It’s really about ethics and values, loyalty and betrayal, ego and hubris – the stuff, in short, of all drama, not just the sort that occurs on the road to the White House.

Ryan agreeing to meet Giamatti’s Tom Duffy behind the back of his seasoned boss Philip Seymour Hoffman might seem like a rookie’s mistake for an operative who’s supposed to be at the top of his game.

Pride, though, has a habit of coming before a fall. Stephen’s mien of coolly arrogant superiority – effortlessly punctured by Wood’s Molly Stearns in an early encounter in his office – alerts us to where his cocksure character is heading.

More problematic is Stephen’s rather naïve faith in Morris, something we can only really swallow by conflating him with Clooney’s real-life do-gooding. (“He’s the only one that is going to actually make a difference in people’s lives!” Gosling states at one point with the fervour of a zealot.)

You don’t need a crystal ball to guess that it might be slightly misplaced, making this supposedly experienced spokesman look a bit of a greenhorn. In Michael Clayton, Clooney played a jaded trouble-shooter whose cynicism concealed an unexpected capacity for decency. Here decency is the
mask, Morris’ urbane appearance hiding a ruthless streak broader than Pennsylvania Avenue and a libido bigger than Colin Farrell’s. How did Stephen miss that?

The March of time

It’s fair to say Ides is bleaker than audiences might be expecting, even with its witty one-liners (“Neville Chamberlain, commander-in-chief!” sighs Meyers after Morris goes all pacifist when quizzed on the military) and eye-catching selection of supporting turns. (Take a bow, Marisa Tomei’s wily reporter and the quietly resurgent Jennifer Ehle in an unbilled cameo as Clooney’s wife.)

Produced in the death throes of the Bush era, Farragut North could hardly have been untouched by the
disenchantment and despair of pre-Barack America. But even with Obama’s popularity plummeting, the film has an old-school feel – not least because, like Good Night, And Good Luck, it harks back to the thoughtful, questioning movies of the New Hollywood ’70s.

Yet that, in the end, might be Ides’ salvation. Unlike so many of his peers, Clooney isn’t making movies for the here and now but movies that – Leatherheads apart – will stand the test of time.

Right now, it may be difficult to view this film in the context to which its makers aspire – The Candidate, All The President’s Men and Mr Smith Goes To Washington were all name-checked by George in the run-up to Ides’ Venice premiere.

Who’s to say, though, that in the years to come we won’t be mentioning them in the same breath?

Verdict:

Clooney and Gosling will poll well in this sleek peek at how politicians really get elected, staged with a smart nod to the classic conspiracy yarns of yesteryear.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • BobbyTwoTimes

      Oct 25th 2011, 14:55

      The 'Ideas' Of March??!

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    • moviebaberoonie

      Oct 25th 2011, 15:30

      @bobby2T yep I think its the discarded plots to kill Caeser. I love that they still haven't spotted it to change it. And that title would probably be a better film.

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    • ccarman

      Nov 4th 2011, 13:50

      Bleak, indeed, even cynical. Great performances but fitting for our politically disillusioned age. http://colincarman.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/review-the-ides-of-march/

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    • FBEXanthopoul

      Jan 21st 2012, 15:50

      4

      www.unsungfilms.com by Georgia Xanthopoulou George Clooney took a starring role in this year’s Golden Globes both with his directorial effort The Ides of March and with Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, which earned him the Globe for Best Actor Drama. The Ides of March falls into the category of the, always current, political drama as it deals with the corruption one faces when entering politics as well as the thick skin that it takes in order to make it to the top. The film tells the story of a young man, Stephen Meyers, portrayed by Ryan Gosling, thirsty to succeed as he works for the presidential campaign of George Clooney’s character, Mike Morris. Stephen is very idealistic and strongly believes in the cause and values that Morris stands for. He is smart, capable and willing to work hard as he wants to make a name for himself. He is, however, not willing to compromise his ideals for his job. The film, in essence, concerns itself, and us, with the eternal dilemma between moral values and success, since, as Stephen soon discovers, in order to accomplish his goals he has to give some things up. Politics is revealed as a dirty, hollow arena, corrupting those inside it and, ultimately, claiming their soul. As the very clever and effective promotional poster for the film implies, in order to succeed in politics, one has to jump on the media wagon as well, drawing a link between politics and show business, as it marks politics as some sort of spectacle. Stephen is the brains behind Morris’ campaign and Morris is the trustworthy, good-on-paper face of that campaign. Both actors do an excellent job interpreting their characters with Gosling giving a downright convincing insight of into his character’s struggles, aspirations and dilemmas (Gosling just might be the best actor of his generation, and maybe of other generations as well…). Supporting roles give top-notch actors Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei the chance to prove their acting skills once more. The drama is tightly knit and unfolds in an interesting manner, culminating in an attention-grabbing crescendo, as Gosling’s character is almost forced by the series of events that take place to act in the way he does just to bail out his career. And, in the end, the resolution of the plot effectively communicates the film’s message that, while the road to success may be paved with good intentions, to ultimately succeed, a high price must be paid and it’s not worth it. And while the film is well scripted, well acted and the lesson to be learned is a noble one, still it feels like something’s missing. Perhaps it’s that we’ve seen it all before but, more likely, is that we’ve seen it done better as well. In this film, politics is presented as, essentially, a media circus and a spectacle which requires your soul in order to take you to the top. Politics has been paralleled with show business many times before, highlighting the notion that both lines of work are essentially selling a dream to people eager to buy into it. The film starts on a stage as Stephen rehearses Morris’ speech for him, in a telling scene which points to the fact that it’s not only Morris who sells the dream, as it is essentially Stephen’s creation and inspiration. Even though, technically, Stephen is just a new and young contributor to the campaign who, supposedly, only organises and enables Morris to do his job, it is revealed throughout the film that he has the power to do much more than that. The film also ends with him in front of the camera, as the official spokesperson of the campaign. And even if Morris is still the ‘star’, Stephen has arrived as the author of the dream the campaign is selling as he gets his share of the limelight. What is interesting to me is that in various online threads about this film, people are torn about how to interpret the ending, mostly because audiences are used to ‘the good’ always prevailing. In that universe, Morris should be exposed for the man that he really is and Stephen should stick to his idealistic principles. The title of the film quite helps argue for that but, still, previous conversations and Gosling’s facial expression points to something more sinister. Since I paralleled politics with show business, I will go even further and parallel The Ides of March with Black Swan. Both play upon the idea of success as a small ‘death’, that of the individual’s personality. Both have a protagonist who has what it takes to succeed but, most importantly, acts as though they have no other choice but to succeed. And both end with the moment where the protagonist succeeds in selling a dream to an audience because of their ‘death’ which is almost required by the grander scheme of things. In other words, in order for the people to be provided with what they want and should believe in, individuals have to lose themselves. In The Ides of March, Stephen loses his integrity. Black Swan goes for a more symbolic dramatization of the same general concept, as Nina has her own personal goals she has to achieve. And even though Nina is portrayed being forced into that need to succeed, in the end the outcome is the same for both films. They become someone else that the public wants to see, believe and applaud. And while Black Swan, for some, goes overboard by mixing genres and styles, The Ides of March is on the opposite side of the spectrum as it deals with such a story so conventionally that, when it ends, while it definitely leaves with food for thought, the only new thing it brings to the table is showcasing Ryan Gosling’s talent. And reminding you that Good Night and Good Luck remains George Clooney’s best work to date. Georgia Xanthopoulou at www.unsungfilms.com

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