“Beware the ides of March…” I’ve always liked the Shakespeare quote from Caesar, an ominous warning of betrayal. It’s appropriate that the George Clooney (The American) directed Ides of March is named for the quote, as the movie is similarly characterized by the betrayal and cold ambition found in Shakespeare’s play.
Ryan Gosling (Drive), Philip Seymour Hoffman (currently in Moneyball), Marisa Tomei (The Lincoln Lawyer), and Paul Giamatti (most recently of The Hangover II) comprise a highly-acclaimed cast that is the best collection of actors I’ve seen in a while. Clooney is Democratic governor Mike Morris, an ambitious contender for the White House, especially if he can win the Ohio primary that looms ahead. An integral part of Morris’ campaign is his campaign manager and aide, Stephen Meyers (Gosling). Meyers is a sharp young gun with political savvy beyond his years. He is calculating and shrewd, and will tell you that he’s done more at his age than most of his older counterparts. However, it is Meyers’ strong ego that leaves him susceptible to overtures from the opposition. Morris’ opponent is a more seasoned Democrat, a representative of the status quo, while Morris (much like President Obama) has been anointed as the symbol of hope and change. Stephen has truly bought into Morris’ image and thinks he is backing a winner. As he tells another character, he is “drinking the kool-aid.” The campaign is moving in the right direction until Stephen gets a call from Tom Duffy, campaign manager for Morris’ opponent. Duffy tells Stephen that he’d like him to switch sides and that he should attach himself to a winner and look at the big picture. Stephen ultimately declines, but let the whole thing linger on longer than it should have. Instead of maintaining an impenetrable silence, he allowed for the possibility of uncertainty and cast Morris in a vulnerable light at a critical hour of the campaign.
While managing the campaign, Stephen crosses paths with a young volunteer named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood, True Blood) whose father happens to be the head of the Democratic National Convention. They begin an intimate relationship that leads Stephen to discover that he and the governor share more than a similar ideology. Meanwhile, Stephen tells Morris’ senior campaign manager Paul (Hoffman) about his exchange with Tom Duffy. His admission is met with an impassioned diatribe on the virtue of loyalty, after which he is quickly dismissed from the campaign. At first blush it seems that Stephen will be a victim of his own ego, but he still has an ace up his sleeve with Molly – who is carrying a secret that could derail the entire campaign. It’s ironic that while Paul was reminding Stephen of the importance of loyalty, he had no idea that Stephen had been displaying great loyalty to the governor by cleaning his dirty laundry even while his own position within the campaign grew more and more tenuous.
After Stephen is fired he behaves vengefully and emotionally, almost validating the overture. But you don’t get to where Stephen has gotten without having a fighter’s mentality. He goes into survival mode and begins to play the game from within, angling to revive his role in the campaign and to leverage what info he has against the man he once believed in.
Ides of March was a pretty good political drama. I’ve seen better, but it was a solid movie and an impressive directorial effort from Clooney. I really feel that he captured the idealistic buzz that hums in a Democratic campaign, the enthusiasm and liberalism. I chuckled at the Shepard Fairey-inspired prints modeled after Obama’s iconic ‘Hope’ poster, but otherwise I thought the campaign depiction was realistic. Ryan Gosling continues to prove that he’s one of the best young actors around. He is earnest and real in everything I’ve ever seen him in, and I am always endeared to his characters, whether he’s a criminal in Drive, a drug addict in Half Nelson, or a lovesick suitor in The Notebook. Clooney was effective as the duplicitous Morris and of course it’s no difficult task for him to be the charming candidate. The supporting cast was very good, and I should mention that Jeffrey Wright (Source Code, Cadillac Records) also made an appearance. Another great actor in a pretty good movie. I didn’t like the very last scene of the movie, but I enjoyed it overall. 8 out 10.