‘The Ides of March’ is adapted from a stage-play by Beau Willimon, a former staff member on Howard Dean’s brief, ill-starred presidential dash in 2004. For much of its run, the tale comes steeped in the grubby details of Democrat politics, cherry-picking from a variety of sources, plundering from campaign folklore.
George Clooney directs and stars as Democrat governor Mike Morris, a centre-left poster boy, manoeuvred towards the nomination by a pair of driven back-room advisers. Press secretary Steven Myers (Ryan Gosling) is a true believer in his Presidential candidate. Steven has worked on numerous campaigns, he’s well-liked by the press corps, and he’s damn good at his job.
Even Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the campaign director of Morris’ opponent, wants to steal him away. Working alongside veteran campaign director Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Steven is confident they’ll get Morris elected and change the country for the better. But when Steven betrays his own ideals, it starts a chain reaction which unravels his faith and makes him choke on the delicious Mike Morris Kool-Aid.
But the idea of losing your belief in a political figure perfectly captures the zeitgeist. At one point, campaign worker Ben (Max Minghella) notes that in the general election, the inexperienced candidate almost always beats out his veteran opponent. The implication is that the American public prefers the devil they don’t know because maybe, just maybe, he won’t be a devil.
It’s the inevitable result of identity politics and American reverence of “The Individual”: One man can save the country because that’s how heroic narratives are supposed to work. Hardly a profound realization, but it’s a smart way for Clooney to make his comment without coming off as Redford-esque (i.e. preachy and pedantic).
The Ides of March is definitely about politics, but more specifically it’s about ideals. It’s about what we believe in, or even better, whom we choose to put our belief in. When it comes to voting for President some people choose not to vote at all.
“It doesn’t matter who I vote for,” is a common argument. The response is to say, “Well then you can’t complain.” Then it’s “I’m rubber, you’re glue, etc. etc. etc.” Well, after watching The Ides of March, the person who says “it doesn’t matter” is going to have a whole new slew of ammunition for their argument.
Gosling leads the parade here. Most of his performance is right there in his eyes whether they’re glassy eyed and distraught, steely and determined or empty with disappointment.
Everything his character is feeling is right there on his face, the only time he needs to talk is when he’s smooth-talking the press core, hitting on a determined intern or, when the time calls for it, pushing his weight around.
He scores on all counts. Matched opposite heavyweights such as Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti he stands tall. As for the three I mentioned, they play a role, but this is Gosling’s show.
Clooney’s direction is subtle and never too bold. He captures some great shots in silhouette and chooses to shoot plenty of shots through glass, reminding the audience they’re outsiders looking in on a world they never see.
The real gut punch in Ides, though, comes in the film’s final 30 minutes and not at all for the reasons you’d expect. Clooney leaves the audience hanging and the end result will leave you cold and slightly disturbed.
The more you begin to talk about what you’ve seen with friends, and the closer you evaluate the campaign process you’ve witnessed, the scarier it will become. Just whom exactly can you trust? Anyone? How do you know for sure? And even when you’re sure… are you really?