The Ides of March Review

(3.5 STARS)

The Ides of March is a slick thriller with a clear message: Idealism and hope have no place politics. Succumb to these feelings and you’re finished. Yes, it’s not a new thesis, but it’s one that director George Clooney presents unflinchingly. There are moments in this film that I felt real despair, and considering the only real trick up Clooney’s sleeve is a finely-tuned screenplay (which he cowrote along with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, who wrote the play upon which the film is based), I’d say The Ides of March is a triumph.

Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, a young, but very shrewd, political strategist working on the presidential campaign of Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). Morris, a Democrat, is ahead of his only remaining democratic challenger, Senator Pullman, heading into the very important Ohio primary, but his margin is small, and the nomination will likely hinge on how the two men fare in the Buckeye State.

Shortly before the primary, Stephen gets a call from Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the rival campaign manager, asking for a meeting. Stephen reluctantly accepts and finds out that Duffy has a seemingly foolproof strategy: Recruit Republicans to vote for his candidate in the primary and offer a Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) the position of Secretary of State in exchange for his delegates. Both actions would likely sink Morris and give Pullman the nomination. Stephen, however, knows revealing this to his boss, Paul (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) would result in his expulsion from the campaign. Instead, he confides in an intern, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), whom he begins sleeping with. After Paul meets with Thompson and learns how difficult it’s going to be to win the man’s support (which would virtually clinch the nomination for Morris, as well), Stephen decides he must come clean. The fallout from this admission, however, is monumental, as is the fallout that occurs when Stephen learns his candidate—the one man he truly believes can bring positive change to people’s lives—has a pretty big skeleton in his closet.

As you can see, The Ides of March is dense stuff, and it takes a while to really get into things. But once it does, it doesn’t relent. I thought the film could’ve used a little more room to breathe, especially in the third act, when Stephen starts to really see how deep the rabbit hole goes. This would have really allowed the impact of what’s happening sink in. Still, there’s a very deliberate pacing to the film, which is hard to fault, and the Sorkin-esque dialogue works well with the pace Clooney develops.

Ryan Gosling has been seemingly ubiquitous lately, appearing in Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love. just in the last two months. I preferred his performance in Nicolas Winding Refn’s film, but he’s also stellar here. His character has an arc most actor’s dream of, and Gosling manages to make us care for him, despite the ease with which he manipulates those around him. Clooney, surprisingly, stays in the background for most of the film, but he’s his usually solid self. Paul Giamatti is great and gets to chew the scenery a little, especially late in the film. The two stars, however, are Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Evan Rachel Wood. The former owns the film’s strongest scene (during which he gives Stephen the most important lesson of his life), while the latter just oozes spunk and charm before breaking down into a pool of vulnerability. She, like Gosling, has a great arc, and Wood is more than capable of pulling off the complex role.

I think The Ides of March will work best for those with a predisposed interest in politics. There’s very little time to get initiate with what these individuals are talking about, and those without much knowledge of the process could find themselves lost. But the film is still a refreshingly straightforward “thriller” with exceptional performances and a lot of food for thought. Oscar voters, I expect, will eat it up, as will the over-30 crowd. Clooney, of course, is Hollywood’s golden boy, and though I don’t think this effort lives up to his incredible 2005 directorial effort, Good Night and Good Luck, he proves again here how capable a filmmaker he is.

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