If you’re like me and had no idea what “Ides of March” meant until after the movie, it’s interesting to note it’s Roman for the 15th of March.
The Ides of March is the story of the days leading up to that day, on which a heavily-contested Ohio Democrat primary is supposed to take place between governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) and senator Pullman. Morris is the frontrunner but not by much. He is easily able to inspire many by his rousing speeches and his ability to draw empathy out of his audience. He is seen by his campaign managers as the best candidate to ever grace the US political scene up to the point where they’ve come to believe they cannot be disappointed by him.
Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is one of the top managers in Morris’ campaign and he’s also one of those people. After an attempt by the opposing Pullman camp to court Meyers and have him join their side, Meyers will start discovering an aspect to the political life he loves so much that is much darker than he thought. And as his closest friend in the field, journalist Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei), had told him without him believing: “[Morris] is a politician. He will let you down — sooner or later.”
The movie itself is highly engaging. It has a dark, somber mood to it that doesn’t let down from the get go, making it highly enriching for you to sink your senses. The movie sets itself as a political drama from the first minute and stays as such for the course of its ninety minute run.
Scene after scene, the movie builds the tale of how Americans elect their leaders. It forms a plot of corruption that goes on behind scenes we can never see and it illustrates the brutality of people towards each other – how in politics, playing everyone is key to survival. This teaches the main character, Stephen Meyers, an invaluable lesson, one that he wished he’d never learn: to reach places in the political world, you have to give up your basic principles in life. And seeing Meyers transform from the utopia boy at the beginning of the movie to the pragmatic man at the end is a very engaging journey.
The acting in the movie is top notch, as is expected from Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney. As mentioned previously, Gosling provides the movie’s crux when it comes to the acting with the other actors and actresses coming in as accessory to his story. You can sense his anger when he is so, you can feel his sadness when he’s devastated. He slightly reminded me in The Ides of March of his outstanding performance in Blue Valentine, although this still doesn’t come close to that.
George Clooney starts off by portraying a leader you all want to follow: one that shouts integrity and honor and respect. His speeches captivate you, his ideas engage you… and sooner or later, with the twists in the story coming to surface, the leader loses that gleam of pride in his eyes and he becomes someone you can’t but run away from. The transition is performed very subtly by Clooney.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is the angry campaign manager whose goal in life is to get Morris to the White House. And as is expected from Hoffman, his performance is top notch.
The script, co-written by Clooney, is very sharp and that is overly obvious by the way it flows and by the realism it exudes. It’s so realistic, in fact, that it could have easily been a conversation between a bunch of people prior to any elections. The movie has many of the issues people discuss and these issues have been weaved into a highly interesting political movie canvas that doesn’t come off as preachy or trying to convince you of one point or another.
Clooney, as a director, provides good subtle nuances. One particular scene that comes to mind is one where Morris is delivering a speech on one side of the American flag, while Gosling and Hoffman are panicking about the campaign on the other side. Such scenes, although mostly go unnoticed, reveal a high attention to detail, one that you cannot but credit.
The Ides of March, however, is far from being perfect. Sure, it’s highly engaging. But the twist in the movie is highly predictable, which ultimately makes the plot more on the deja-vu side, but it’s the kind of deja-vu that remains interesting. And even though you feel connecting to the characters on screen, towards the end of the movie you get disconnected from everyone as they change to characters you don’t want to relate to. The movie leaves you with an ending that feels lacking. You want more mostly because you want to feel that this man you cheered for is better than what he turned out to be.
At the end of the day, The Ides of March remains a highly realistic movie that is sure to please anyone with an interest in politics in general and political movies in particular. It’s a very tightly-produced drama that doesn’t ask much of you except to concentrate and watch, ultimately inherently asking fundamental questions about the values of democracy we all consider a given.