Movie review: The Ides of March directed by George Clooney

Written By: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon

Cast:
Governor Mike Morris: George Clooney
Stephen Meyers: Ryan Gosling
Ida Horowich: Marisa Tomei
Molly Stearn: Evan Rachel Wood
Paul Zara : Philip Seymour Hoffman

Synopsis:

A Democratic Party primary campaign is unfolding in the key state of Ohio – Governor Mike Morris is running against Republican Senator Pullman and his people will do everything possible to make him win. In that process they also want to secure the best vantage point for themselves – small wonder the atmosphere is heavy with fratricidal betrayal and vicious back-stabbing behind the scenes.

Stephen Meyers, although just 30, is Mike’s PR guru; surprisingly he truly seems to believe in the ideas preached by his candidate, mistaking the charm-boy blunt talk for idealism. Soon enough he will get a crash course in dirty politics, finding out that there are no friends, just co-workers, and your conscience is the first thing to compromise if you want to go places fast.

 One clandestine meeting is enough to put Stephen in conflict with Paul Zara, Mike’s campaign manager, and Tom Duffy, the chief Republican strategist. Duffy arranged that meeting, pretending he was keen on luring the brilliant communication guy from the other team over to Pullman’s side. Although Stephen said ‘no’ the mere fact that he talked to Duffy could be taken against him. His position became even more complex when he found out that Molly, the sexy young intern he picked up (not without her playing an active part in the process) and was sleeping with, was not exactly as guileless and faithful as you would expect from a 20-year-old girl. Finally Stephen is fired unceremoniously by Zara, the very man he trusted so much, and it seems nobody cares that his career in politics is over. What will he have to sacrifice in order to return to the game he loves? Will it be the same game?

My impressions:

First a bit about the historical reference of the title itself.

“The Ides of March” was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars in ancient Rome; it is also the date on which Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. by his fellow senators, led by Marcus Junius Brutus, his close friend, and Gaius Cassius Longinus. At that time Caesar was the dictator of the Roman Republic, having recently been declared dictator perpetuo (so for the infinite period of time) by the Senate. This declaration made several senators fear that Caesar wanted to overthrow the Senate in favor of tyranny. The result, unforeseen by the assassins, was that Caesar’s death precipitated the end of the Roman Republic. Since then “the Ides of March” mean a fateful day during which something unpredictable and evil can happen, often as a result of a secret plotting or clandestine activity.

Well, the soothsayer who warned Julius Caesar to “beware the ides of March” didn’t know anything – since then politics has only got dirtier and more dangerous. You might wonder how anybody similar to wide-eyed, idealistic Stephen could actually go so far without becoming seriously disillusioned at some point. Yet Stephen’s is the sort of idealism that turns out to be thin-skinned and highly strung very quickly, in spite of the apparent unflappable competence, so impressive in the eyes of his own boss and his adversaries.

The premise of this movie is to show a young idealist at the point of turning sour (meaning here turning fully professional). There is a kind of assassination (but not of a major political figure), a funeral oration and someone with blood on his hands who wants to and manages to get away with it but only by compromising his own ideals. Still, in my opinion Clooney is hunting an even bigger game. He scratches the surface of each of his flawed characters to find out when they first put their souls on the market and for what reason. Because everybody can be bought and broken, it’s only a matter of the currency and the price. Even a very young trainee who just brings coffee and hangs around to make some telemarketing calls might be used and abused in the process. Still the price she has to pay will be significantly higher.

I found this movie a bit repetitive, copying the ideas from previous productions like Primary Colors, Bob Roberts or Wag the Dog. The key revelation, concerning Molly the intern and her shadowy dealing with the Governor, lacked ‘wow’ factor so, I suppose, wasn’t sufficiently worked out in dramatic terms. Still there were scenes in which this film felt very real, definitely closer to the atmosphere that make up most political campaigning. The performance of both Mr. Clooney and Gosling was really good, making the whole story definitely more believable and chilly.

One more thing: I loved the fact that some of Governor Morris’s campaign posters were clearly inspired by Shepard Fairey’s iconic “Hope” poster, used during Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008.

Final verdict:

A high-IQ film, with a really good lead performance and some great if not a bit bleak commentary on contemporary politics. Still, nothing revolutionary or fresh and certainly nothing to make you want to vote.

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