Movie Review: Ides of March
By Matthew Huntley
October 17, 2011
Sooner or later, does everyone’s integrity have a price? At what point do our values succumb to our ambition for success? Such questions are at the root of The Ides of March, a slow but effective political drama that pins morality against ascendancy and asks us which one is more important, especially when we live in a world where corruption and dishonesty are inevitable. If that’s the case, should we attempt to change the system or take advantage of it because we figure it’s always going to be this way? By the end, the movie leaves us something to think about, even though we already started thinking about it by the end of the first act. This is not an innovative film that breaks new ground, but it gets to the meat of its subjects and we respond to it.
The co-writer and director is George Clooney, an outspoken liberal who obviously uses the film as a platform to express his own political views. But this makes sense if you think about it, since he plays one of the remaining two candidates in the Democratic Presidential Primary, when his character talks about things like freedom of religion and being against the death penalty, Clooney makes him all the more credible because he’s speaking from his own heart. He plays Mike Morris, Governor of Pennsylvania, who’s vying for his party’s nomination against an Arkansas senator. Each man needs Ohio to win, and in order for that to happen, they need the endorsement of another senator (Jeffrey Wright), a man who, like so many men, can be persuaded with the right sop.
Swept up in the middle of it all is Morris’ Junior Campaign Manager, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), who truly believes in what the governor has to say. Meyers has stringent principles and says he’ll do or say anything as long as he believes in the cause. He’s more idealistic than his boss, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who’s misanthropic but remains doggedly dedicated to his candidate.
Eyeing the ambitious Myers is Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the campaign manager for Morris’ opponent. He asks the young man for a drink and asks him point blank to come and work for him. The meeting alone calls Myers’ loyalty into question. Complicating things further is Ida (Marisa Tomei), a tenacious reporter for the New York Times who received an anonymous tip about the meeting and threatens to run with it unless she’s made privy to exclusive campaign information.
In an intertwining plot development, Meyers sleeps with one of Morris’ campaign interns, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), who happens to be the daughter of the head of the Democratic National Committee. Meyers finds out, mostly by accident, that she holds a secret that could potentially destroy the governor’s career. Because he’s already in hot water with his boss and faces possible termination, he figures he can utilize what Molly told him in an effort to save his own skin.
I’ve given you a lot of information about this movie, but I haven’t given anything away, and on a broad level, The Ides of March doesn’t really go anywhere we haven’t been before. Political thrillers often incorporate themes of betrayal, affairs, secrets, and the question of how much it takes to sell out, and while this movie isn’t much different in that regard, it’s Clooney’s grounded and raw approach to the material that gives it power. He develops the plot from a relatively realistic point of view and avoids sensation and soap-opera style gimmicks. We don’t watch this movie waiting for grandiose events to happen - like a chase scene or death by gun - but rather how these people might actually handle their situations if it were real life.
As a film, The Ides of March is credibly written, directed and acted, and the production values are economic and lean, which allows us to focus more keenly on the dialogue and characters. After all, they are the most important elements in a film of this nature and Clooney knows this. He lets his actors talk without cutting away too hastily and holds on their intense close-ups, insisting we pay attention to what they say and how they react. Morris and Meyers have one particular exchange that’s taut not only because of the performances but because Clooney allows their conversation time to complete. Moments like these, along with Alexandre Desplat’s subtle score, resonate with us as we gather our thoughts after the closing shot.
It’d be difficult to say any more about the story without saying too much, but it was nice to see Clooney getting back to the basics of a political thriller by juxtaposing politics and morals. It’s a cynical film for sure, but one that’s probably not too far from the truth. If that’s the case, and given what happens to some of the characters and where it suggests they’ll end up, we can also view it as a downright scary and sad film. It’s not uplifting, but it gives us something to think about, like whether our integrity would ever be for sale.