My primary concern heading into The Ides of March was the possibility of the film being a bit too pretentious for its own good. After all, political dramas have a tendency to be stuffy and have a smug sense of self-importance. Thankfully, none of that is found here. Instead, we get a smart, well-executed story highlighted with exceptional performances and Clooney’s sure hand guiding the picture, behind the camera as well as in front of it.
In the same way that Moneyball provided a fresh perspective on a baseball movie, The Ides of March gives a dramatic look at the behind-the-scenes scheming of election films. Though Clooney is primarily known as an actor, this is his fourth feature film as a director; with solid movies like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck on his resume, it’s no wonder he’s able to amass such talented casts for his projects. The multi-talented superstar also lends his hand to the screenplay, co-writing with his producing partner Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon (whose play, “Farragut North,” is the source material for this movie). Clooney’s collected persona seems to permeate the film through every frame: the movie itself definitely takes a stand for one side of the political spectrum (Clooney himself is an outspoken Democrat), but The Ides of March is impressive because it has a sense of conviction without condemnation. The ideas presented are not preached but practically stated, and regardless of the audience’s personal political beliefs, anyone can watch this movie without his or her feathers being ruffled too much.
While idealistic political advisor Stephen Meyers (Gosling) masterminds the primary campaign for Democratic candidate Mike Morris (Clooney), the young consultant makes some troubling discoveries about loyalty, compromise, integrity, and the reality of politics. Tempted by his enemies (Paul Giamatti as the rival campaign manager), seduced by an intern (Evan Rachel Wood), tested by his boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman as Morris’ campaign leader), and hounded by a reporter (Marisa Tomei as a journalist for the New York Times), Meyers soon realizes the world of politics isn’t easily traversed without sacrifice.
This film has one of the best casts assembled this year. Everyone does fantastic work and the Oscar nominations are sure to come once awards season rolls around. Thus continues the Year of Our Gosling, 2011: after a stoic role in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, Ryan Gosling is allowed more opportunities for actual emoting and takes full advantage of them, delivering one of the best performances of the year. He’s terrific as the starry-eyed advisor, a man who honestly believes in the cause he’s fighting for, slowly revealing to the audience his willingness to justify the final result of the election. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti fit right in with their characters, having played variations of them before (see: Giamatti in 2009’s Duplicity). Both actors were wonderful, each bringing an intangible quality that captivates the audience – we hang on their every word. Evan Rachel Wood was outstanding as the young intern who provides a jolt of energy to the story, and from what I’ve seen of her career, this is my favorite performance of hers. Marisa Tomei (Wood’s co-star in Aronofsky’s The Wrestler) also does some good work with a small role.
The look of the film can be a bit stark at times, but there’s some great imagery here. Clooney’s character gives a campaign speech in front of a giant American flag with thousands of people cheering him on while Gosling and Hoffman’s characters argue just behind the flag. On one side, the flag represents hope and progress, and on the other side, it hangs ominously as a weighty reminder of the stakes of every decision the key players make. Every directorial choice in the movie felt calculated (in a good way), and Clooney continues to prove himself as powerful creative force in Hollywood.
The Ides of March is a must-see for audiences who love strong dramatic performances. It’s not as much a great political movie as just simply a great movie, and this could easily end up scoring a nomination for Best Picture. As someone who isn’t heavily invested in politics, I was captivated during the entire film and definitely recommend checking it out. Until next time…