The Ides of March represents George Clooney’s entry in the 2011 Oscar race. For his third directorial outing, Clooney has adapted Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, recruiting frequent collaborator Grant Heslov and even Willimon himself to help construct this somewhat derivative examination of the today’s political zeitgeist. An old-fashioned type of thriller, The Ides of March ostensibly appears to be just another flick about innocence lost in the tumultuous world of politics, but at its heart this is a multilayered exploration of honour and integrity in the face of a career which demands dishonesty. Such messages are nothing new, but Clooney has delivered the material with genuine passion and style, incorporating strong performances and intuitive filmmaking to make this admittedly flawed picture worthy of your attention.
In Ohio, a heated political battle is unfolding to determine who will be the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. Favoured candidate Mike Morris (Clooney) is being guided in his campaign by seasoned pro Paul Zara (Hoffman) and idealistic young hotshot Stephen Meyers (Gosling). As Paul scrambles to secure local support, Stephen is invited to a lunch meeting with Tom Duffy (Giamatti), the campaign manager for Morris’ rival. Intrigued, Stephen attends the meeting only to be offered a job in Duffy’s crew. Stephen declines due to his established allegiances, but word of the meeting soon reaches New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Tomei) who threatens to release the story. Stephen’s paranoia begins going into overdrive, and the situation soon becomes exacerbated by his affair with 20-year-old intern Molly Stearns (Wood) who holds secrets that could potentially bring down Morris’ campaign.
The first act of The Ides of March is static and talky, with the reams of complicated political jargon rendering it rather uninvolving. The dry dialogue may be true to the way these people talk behind-the-scenes, but it leaves the rest of us on the outside looking in. It’s not that writers Clooney, Heslov and Willimon should’ve dumbed everything down to Twitter speak – it’s that they expected too much of viewers, who are given so many intricate, vaguely-explained political machinations to process and not enough time for them to sink in. Thus, the pace is quick but the film is often unengaging. However, things thankfully heat up once Molly’s conundrum is revealed. From there, the proceedings are enthralling and easier to follow. Once the finish line enters the flick’s sights, though, The Ides of March falters. The narrative is such a rich tapestry of subplots and intrigue, stacking the deck against the writers who were saddled with the responsibility of resolving everything without senselessly dragging things out. To their credit, they conceived of a neat resolution and the final shot is sublime, but the specifics are too hazy.
Throughout his motion picture career as a director, actor and producer, George Clooney has been part of the creative school who yearn for a comeback of patient, pre-blockbuster cinema. Thus, Clooney enjoys participating in visually sophisticated films more concerned with storytelling and challenging ideas than explosions for maximum box office. Thus, The Ides of March is technically handsome, and was clearly created by consummate professionals from top to bottom. Clooney’s direction is also astute. His efforts are especially commendable during the picture’s final shot which studies Stephen’s eyes as his integrity and soul becomes permanently replaced by dishonesty and rugged political ambition.
2011 is truly a banner year for Ryan Gosling, with The Ides of March marking his third sublime performance in a matter of months. With Crazy, Stupid, Love. and Drive now under his belt, the actor is becoming richer and more exciting, and his performance as Stephen Meyers here is truly superb. His dialogue may be occasionally dry, but Gosling’s focus is unbreakable and riveting. Alongside Gosling is an equally impressive supporting cast. As the in-over-her-head Molly, Evan Rachel Wood truly shines in a performance that’s both vivacious and affecting. She’s a strong companion for Gosling; they share great chemistry, and their exchanges are often a highlight. Meanwhile, both Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman shine as the campaign managers of the rival parties, and George Clooney is spot-on as Governor Morris. This is not a case of a director filling a part for the sake of his ego; Clooney is genuinely perfect in the role. Rounding out the cast is Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright, both of whom sparkle. Indeed, it’s doubtful you will see a more finely-tuned acting machine this year.
The Ides of March does not tell us anything innovative about politicians, and its story is nothing new. Instead of a shocking revelation about modern politics, it concerns itself with the same type of sex scandal plot we’ve seen done before. Still, this type of stuff does actually happen (Bill Clinton, anyone?), so maybe such criticisms are just nitpicking. The Ides of March is indeed flawed from a script perspective and you’ll be left with a very bleak feeling once it ends, but this is the type of movie that you appreciate the more you ponder it.