The Ides of March
by M. Faust
The Ides of March
Here’s the key to The Ides of March: It’s not a movie about politics.
You will be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The characters are all people working on a political campaign, and it arrives in theaters in the early days of what promises to be an especially painful political season. (Each one seems like the worst ever, and then the next one rolls up.)
I think the fact that it is opening now is a poor decision. Then again, maybe there won’t be a better time: Maybe our immersion in divisive politics and the public’s increasing cynicism about the whole process will only ever get worse. If so, God help us.
The Ides of March (could that title be more portentous?) is a drama about characters faced with moral decisions. Clooney has said in interviews that it might have been better set on Wall Street, though of course that’s hardly a setting free of popular acrimony these days.
Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Myers, press secretary to Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), currently in a close race to become his party’s candidate for president of the United States. He’s younger than the men he works with, and much more idealistic: He admits that he’s “drunk the Kool-Aid” and is working for Morris because he believes he is what the country needs.
Or at least so he says. If Morris wins, Stephen is guaranteed a position in the White House, quite a coup for someone who has just turned 30. His skill with the press is such that he received an offer from the other side, in the person of opposing campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Duffy fills him on why Morris will lose, and offers him a job.
From that point, Ides becomes a story of Stephen discovering that he’s not as smart as he thinks he is, and how he reacts when he finds out that he has been played. Along with Morris, the chess board is populated by Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Morris’s campaign manager and Stephen’s immediate boss, a New York Times reporter (Marisa Tomei) who is Stephen’s friend as long as it benefits her, and Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), an intern. Will the word “intern” ever lose the salacious meaning it has inappropriately acquired? Not this week.
Adapted by Clooney and his partner Grant Heslov from the 2008 play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, a former Howard Dean staffer, Ides is juicily acted by a first-rate cast; one only wishes that Hoffman and Giamatti had been given more scenes together. (On the other hand, thank god that Brad Pitt and Leonardo di Caprio dropped out of the production so that their places could be taken by Hoffman and Gosling.)
Still, coming as it does during the leadup to another political season, it seems to me a film mean to delight the cynical, hardly an audience that needs any more encouragement. If you think that everyone all politicians are immoral and self-serving, you’ll be right at home, though I have to tell you I think you’d be happier finding something you can believe in and stand up for rather than one more reason to sneer at the world around you. Just a thought.
Watch the trailer for The Ides of March
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