All it costs you is your soul.
You know the joke, “Politicians are a lot like diapers…They should be changed often and for the same reason.” This goes for their staff of sycophants as well. In The Ides of March, director George Clooney shows us the backstabbing and metaphorical swordplay that takes place in the smoky back rooms of political power players, and the depths one man goes to in order to get his guy to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney, The Descendants) is running in a tough primary campaign. One of his top aides is Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling, Drive), a true believer who thinks Morris is the one politician who can make a difference in peoples’ lives. When Meyers has a fateful meeting with the Chief of Staff of Morris’ opponent, it sets into motion a string of events that shows the idealistic Meyers just how dirty the political game can be.
Whatever your politics are, The Ides of March is a fair assessment of the current political landscape; showing neither side in a positive light. Clooney, as a self-proclaimed Hollywood liberal, isn’t wearing his progressive heart on his sleeve; not too prominently anyway. Conservatives may choke on their popcorn listening to Morris’ loony proposals like, “When I’m elected President, no new cars will be made with an internal combustible engine.” Or, my favorite, “If we stop using oil, the terrorists will just go away. No war necessary.” What?! In what universe will this philosophy work?
As sophomoric as these ideas are, both the film and Clooney’s performance are rock solid. On E.R., I found his acting style to come from the school of brooding mumbler. Since then, he’s grown into a wonderful actor as well as a fine director. But for as good as Clooney is, this film belongs to Ryan Gosling. He may be gorgeous, but he’s also a darn good actor, his skills on par with anyone in this cast. While almost every character is at least one part snake in the grass, Gosling’s Meyers is the lone idealist who actually believes that government makes a positive difference. Meyers goes through quite the metamorphosis, done in a way that doesn’t make the audience feel like a bunch of dummies. Rather he employs the subtle use of facial expressions and body language to show the character’s personality change. Early in the film, Meyers is light on his feet, positive and confident that he’s working for the right guy. As things progress, his posture is more defensive and his face more stern. Smiles that were once warm and sincere turn cynical. By the end, Meyers is a completely different man than the one we met at the beginning. Bravo, Mr. Gosling.
If Clooney and Gossling aren’t enough to draw you into this film’s web, maybe the inclusion of Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) and Paul Giamatti (Sideways) will make you take another look. Hoffman plays Paul Zara, Morris’ chief of staff, while Giamatti plays Tom Duffy, his counterpart for the other candidate. Zara is the mentor of young Meyers, a guy who’s worked his way up from the smallest of campaigns to the big time. Zara has seen it all, but underestimates his young charge’s determination. Giamatti plays the win-at-all-costs Duffy as a champion for the up-and-coming Meyers, but all may not be what it appears. Watching these two play off each other is tantamount to watching two top chefs create the most exquisite of meals. They have never appeared on screen together before and I hope we don’t have to wait too long to see them together again.
Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler) portrays Ida Horowitz, a jaded reporter looking for that big story. We’ve seen this character done a thousand times in a thousand different films, the only distinction here is we have a female instead of some hard drinking, chain smoking, womanizing man. Still, her performance is spot on, even if the role is fairly predictable. One last shout out goes to Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen) who plays Molly Stearns, daughter of the head of the Democratic National Committee and an intern for the beloved Governor Morris. Her role is a small but pivotal one and she has quite the chemistry with Gossling.
The Ides of March is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with a crisp clear picture that highlights the cool colors of the fall season the film takes place in. Much like the character transformations, the bright lighting that’s present early in the movie gives way to darker, shadowy scenes as the situation becomes bleaker. The Dolby 5.1 audio offers no extreme dynamics and the dialogue isn’t washed out by Alexandre Desplat’s understated score.
Bonus features include a commentary featuring Clooney and co-writer/producer Grant Heslov, and two featurettes — “Believe: George Clooney” and “On the Campaign: The cast of The Ides of March.” A nice compact selection of extras that gives the viewer a good behind-the-scenes look at the film.
Clooney could’ve easily made The Ides of March a fairy tale of the angelic left versus the demonic right; instead he presents a fair account that doesn’t excuse the behavior of either. So, set your political affiliations down on the coffee table next to the keys and that cold cup of coffee, because there is a lesson in this film for everyone; and that message is, politics is a dirty business. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you best steer clear.
No hanging chad controversy here. The clear winner is The Ides of March.