The Ides of
Everybody knows, intellectually at least, what a cutthroat, dirty game
politics is. Still, it is always rather shocking on the rare occasions when
you see exactly how cold the whole thing can be.
It’s like that old saying about slaughterhouses – if you knew what went into
the making of the meat you would never be able to eat it.
The Ides of March,
George Clooney’s smart
new political thriller, knows all about this world (Clooney’s father Nick is
a long-time journalist turned political candidate and activist and George
grew up around it all) and shows the process off for all of its conflicting
qualities – both positive and negative. It shows how hardened you have to
be to take a part in this world, how you can go from an ideologue to a cynic
in a matter of hours.
is a fictional look at the world of political campaigns, but it feels as
trenchant as today’s newspaper (well, blog… sadly, no one reads the papers
anymore). It shows how basically good people with very pure intentions can
easily become warped by the system to the point where nothing – not truth,
loyalty, scruples or even people’s lives – is more important than winning.
Smartly, the openly progressive Clooney made the
film about a Democratic Presidential primary, to cut off the inevitable
cries of partisanship. This story is not about party politics so much as
how deadening the whole process can be. “See,” Clooney seems to be saying,
“Democrats are no better than Republicans.” (Well, a little better, but not
The Ides of March
about the political process – it is based on the play Farragut North
by former political operative Beau Willimon, who co-wrote the screenplay
with Clooney and his long-time collaborator Grant Heslov. And if, yes, it
occasionally gets a bit melodramatic, much of what goes on here still has
the stark feel of reality.
of this world is hard to watch, but some of it is undeniably seductive.
The Ides of March, Clooney plays Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris, a
progressive’s wet dream of a candidate. He’s smart, good-looking, smooth
talking, committed to the common person and the environment, anti-war,
pro-jobs and does not put his religion before his position
However, Morris is
not the main character of the film. This is not a look at the candidate so
much as the machinery behind the scenes. Imagine The West Wing
filmed before President Bartlett made it into office – and if Leo, CJ, Josh
and Toby were considerably more cutthroat – and you’ll have an idea of the
thrust of this movie.
The Ides of March
is actually about the political coming-of-age – and loss of innocence – of a
hotshot up-and-comer in the political world. Stephen Meyers (played by Ryan
Gosling) is a true anomaly in the current political world, incredibly savvy
at the game and yet a true, idealistic believer.
is working his way up the ladder in the world of campaign managers – nicely
captured in exhausted and jaundiced performances by Phillip Seymour Hoffman
and Paul Giamatti – and still being schooled in
how low these things can go.
However, he quickly loses his innocence and moral high ground when he learns
a dirty secret about his candidate. As one of the characters here puts it,
“You stay in this business long enough, you get jaded and cynical.” And
when Meyers goes cynical, he goes all in.
speaking of going all in, Stephen is the third straight completely different
and completely successful performance by Gosling in just a few months. If
you ever doubted this guy’s serious acting chops and star quality, just
check out a triple feature of Crazy. Stupid.
Love., Drive and The Ides of March. The characters and the films
have little in common, except for the craft that Gosling brings to the
roles. This year should be the year that Gosling becomes an A-lister, and
it is deserved.
Clooney, in his fourth directing job, has made his most commercial film yet
(of course when two of those films are Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
and Leathernecks that is not a huge stretch…). However, the guy
continues to show a natural gift for storytelling, and as a director he is
able to bring out the best in his extremely talented cast.
There are some who will say that the eventual corruption of Stephen Meyer
comes too quickly, and perhaps they are true. However as a modern morality
tale, The Ides of March makes for some arresting viewing.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: October 5, 2011.