Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Ides of March

By s. Saturday, December 3, 2011 , , , , , , ,
95/100 (101 min, 2011)
Plot: An idealistic staffer for a newbie presidential candidate gets a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail.
Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney (screenplay), Grant Heslov (screenplay)
Stars: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney and Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Death of Ideals

“The Ides of March” is a thrilling movie and the best film George Clooney has made so far. It is also the best portrayal of the cold and hopeless world of people playing the game of lies and power since "Michael Clayton" I love Clooney as an actor, not so much as a director – he did horrible “Leatherheads”, stylish but ultimately disappointing “Good Night and Good Luck” and messy “Confessions of a dangerous mind” which had some impressive scenes and an outstanding performance by Sam Rockwell, but was ultimately a deeply flawed film. “The Ides of March” is however beautifully executed and the story – co-written by Clooney is incredibly engaging, from start to finish.
I think the last time I was that enthralled by a movie was during “Frost/Nixon” - as with Ron Howard's film we also have political games and sublime characters here. The beauty of the film is that there are no bad guys – everyone is simply a human being, trying to survive in the ruthless world of the politics. The characters make mistakes and as most of the people, they are willing to do a lot for those mistakes to never see the light of day. The protagonist of the story is the young idealist, Stephen Meyers, who is the right hand of Governor Mike Morris. He is dedicated to the cause - getting Morris to become president. He believes in him and he sees him as a person, who will change the country. But the longer Stephen is in the game, the more dirt about everyone around him comes to light.

There are no perfect people in this world and politicians are one of the groups that is as far from idealistic view of the world as you can get – the movie shows that even if someone genuinely wants to change the bad situation, has moral guidelines and rules, sooner or later will be forced to break them in order to survive in this ruthless environment. Everybody breaks to save their own skin and if hey can't do this – they chose escape. Each character in the movie does everything in order to get ahead or leave their errors behind them.
In any other hands the character of Stephen would be unlikable – he starts off as an idealist but he is cold, he's a workaholic and he isn't particularly sensitive – after having sex with young intern Molly, when someone on the phone asks him who is the woman they hear in the background he responds “she's just a cleaning lady”. When I saw Ryan Gosling in “Drive” I was almost sure he will not create better performance any time soon. Well, I was wrong. Because of his convincing acting we actually root for Stephen even if he does bad things – he is prepared to sell anyone, just to keep a job. He is consistently changing sides, using manipulation, bluffing and even blackmail – but it's not because he wants to do those things. These are the only means left for him when his back is against the wall.

There is one genuinely likable character in the film – Molly. She is played by Evan Rachel Wood and I think it's her most charming character and best performance to date. Wood is usually playing she-devils or troubled women, but here, no matter what happens to Molly, she somehow spreads warmth around her. But even that is crushed by the dirty, mischievous world the girl got involved in. Wood is the heart of the movie and her character is crucial to the plot. There are several twists involving Molly and such an insignificant person in the staff as 20-year old intern becomes both an ace of spades and possible nail to the coffin for the other characters in the film.
Clooney assembled impressive cast and everyone get their moment to shine – Paul Giamatii, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Ehle and Jeffrey Wright. Clooney himself is great as Morris – he clearly modeled the character on Obama, even the posters for Morris campaign carry striking resemblance to the real ones. But for the most of the film he is in the shadows, allowing Gosling to shine so bright. There is a great amount of tension in the movie and one scene in particular reminded me of “Do I look like I'm negotitating” scene from “Michael Clayton”. I assure you - you will know the scene when you see it. One more similarity to Tony Gilroy's movie is the ending - the close up of the main character whose fight has ended. But the outcomes of these battles are very different.

The movie is elegantly shot and the score by Alexandre Desplat is especially impressive – Desplat usually creates beautiful separate pieces but his albums as whole never leave a lasting impression. “The Ides of March” score is fantastic throughout the movie and quite unusual for Desplat – his music is always very delicate but here there are some pieces that bring James Newton Howard's work to mind – particularly the one that is heard when Meyers walks into opposite candidate's campaign office.
The movie has terrific ending which leaves us wondering – what will Stephen do? Did he abandoned his ideals? Or is he prepared to fight for the truth? I think that the dark side won in the end. At one point of the movie he says he only supports what he believes in. But later on, as Morris is talking to the press, speaking about freedom and better America, Meyers has no enthusiasm on his face, just sadness and disenchantment. The world has changed him and the hunger for power replaced his dreams. It's a cruel message - that what happens to us can have such an deep impact on our personality and erase the things we used to believe in. But the worst thing of all is how true it is.


  1. I have been curious about this movie for a long time. I am interested in politics, and this film has a great cast. I'll rent this next time I get the chance. ;-)

    Excellent review! I love what you said about Gosling's performance. I have been a fan ever since I saw Lars and the Real Girl, and he seems to keep getting better.

    1. Oh if you are interested in politics I'm sure you will like this one, it's very entertaining and the cast is doing great job.

      Thank you! I loved his work in "Lars..." but I think he was even better here.