No matter what side you say you put your faith in for politics, whether you lean to left or right wing agendas, there is likely a whole lot of duplicity that lies just beneath the surface. If you cannot admit to the idea that every politician (yes, even the one you champion for) is human, flawed, placed in a position of considerable power and therefore bound to slip up sooner or later in some way, congratulations. You are now the most optimistic person on the planet.
From the looks of it, I think even actor/co-writer/director George Clooney, an outspoken liberal and humanitarian activist in real life, acknowledges the amount of hypocrisy, cynicism and downright amorality that fills any and every political platform in his new film, “The Ides Of March.” This is a film that paints neither side as a bad guy, but rather paints the whole canvas in a gooey, sordid layer of black. The final work is never presented publicly, as someone is always told to drape a beautiful, more presentable Mona Lisa covering to give a different impression.
The sad, horrible truth is that the goings-on depicted in the film closely follow some of the controversies and revealed truths that happen in real life to prominent figures in the business. No, scratch that. The events that go down basically mirror the very worst headline news stories. The sex scandals, the shady dealings, the blackmailing, the association with the press and the crooked ways a candidate will nab a vote (“doing or saying anything to win”) are just a few of the precarious subjects addressed here. In this media savvy, Internet-dominant, catch-everything-on-video age which we live in, how could any official think that they won’t get caught for committing a deep, dark, ugly treason?
The film centers in on not the definitive presidential election, but on the political primaries that decides which of the two runners will go on to represent their party (in this case, the Democratic party) by the time election day rolls around. Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is the young but qualified campaign manager for one of the two Democratic candidates Mike Morris (Clooney), a liberal Pennsylvania governor, while Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the more experienced manager.
Essentially what the campaign all comes down to is the popular vote for the state of Ohio, which has a strong chance of influencing the outcome of the primary. And one of the deciding factors of the state’s approval is an admirable thumbs-up endorsement from the state’s own Senator Thompson (briefly played by Jeffrey Wright).
Meanwhile, the opponent’s slimy manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) gets Stephen to agree to meet with him, where he offers a successful job as a strategist in the rival administration. But Stephen stands firm in his devotion to Governor Morris’s ethics. When asked if he is single, he responds that he is married to the campaign. Everyone in Morris’s department does, but only a few of them are truly dedicated workers. As Stephen is only thirty years old, he has a long time to go before the game of politics turns him into a hard, callous individual like…well, everyone else around him.
He also meets an intern at work, a chairman’s daughter named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood). As you can probably guess, they will get into a little “Friends With Benefits” action before too long, and they do. However, it is does not unfold in the typical romantic B-story way that you may expect from a lesser film. And Marisa Tomei plays Ida, an inquisitive reporter that bleeds Stephen and Paul for new developments and at one point establishes just how little friendships factor into the political machine.
And from here, all of the plot threads jump out of control. And I was onboard for every second of it.
To be honest, I walked into this film with kind of lukewarm expectations and left the theater feeling more than satisfied with what I saw. The reason why I arrived with a chip on my shoulder is because films set in politics (especially the more serious films) tend to not really do much for me, mostly because I myself am not a very scholarly person on the subject. Sure, I hold a certain set of beliefs and morals, but I am not too big on the idea of anchoring myself to an exclusive way of thinking or a specific party.
But this was the rare film that continued to score points with me as it went along. Though it begins a little slower than it should, the performances are enough to satisfy until the plot catches up (and boy, does it catch up). Gosling does excellent here as he plays perhaps the one role that the audience can see eye-to-eye with, while Giamatti and Hoffman continue to maintain nearly flawless track records in their memorable supporting roles. And an interesting thing about the overall structure is that this begins as a drama and slowly (almost indistinctly) turns into a thriller, where secrets are revealed, reputations are at stake and alliances are at their murkiest.
“The Ides Of March” is a great consolation; the kind of picture that has the ability to keep the audience on edge throughout, even without having large amounts of gun fights, computer-generated explosions, swordplay and chase sequences that take place on the highway. Those types of movies can be fun and they generally make more money, but it takes greater skill to captivate people and yank their attention away just through conversations and dialogue. But the most impressive accomplishment is when the words that are spoken yield more lethal consequences than bullets or daggers. That’s when you know a thriller is doing its job right.