One main weak spot of George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” is that its sharp message is hardly regarded as cynical in our days. It is virtually impossible for everyone to remain clean in the mud field called politics, and most of us know that too well through what we have witnessed from our politicians. Even when we try to maintain a little piece of idealism during the elections, it is bound to be betrayed and stabbed, like Julius Caesar was on the ides of March as told by Plutarch and Shakespeare.
The ides of March, or March the 15th, is the important date for everyone in the movie. It is the day of Democratic Ohio primary, whose result will be a major factor to determine the Democratic presidential Candidate for the upcoming election. Because there is no serious competition in Republican Party, everyone knows that the winner in the Democratic Party will virtually be the next president of USA, so there have been fierce competitions inside the Democratic Party and, as you expect, the picture is not so pretty.
Stephen Meyers(Ryan Gosling) is the junior campaign manager working for Mike Morris(Geroge Clooney), the incumbent governor of Pennsylvania who is the leading candidate in the Democratic primary. He is pretty popular with his openly liberal progressive view which would make Barack Obama look like a conservative GOP(his campaign poster is clearly derived from Obama’s, by the way), but his status as a candidate has not been completely clinched yet. If he loses in Ohio Primary, it will be a major setback in his campaign, and the senator Thompson(Jeffrey Wright), who can significantly affect the primary with his 356 delegates, may choose to side with Morris’ major rival.
With his direct boss, the senior campaign manager Paul Zara(Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Meyers has been working hard for the man he believes in. He is young but he is not that naive; he has some experiences about how to react to playing dirty and how to play dirty. He and others know that winning is indeed more important than anything else in the election, but he also believes Morris will bring the change to the country, and he is determined to do everything he can do for him.
However, although he thinks he knows how tricky the world of politics is, he finds himself in the circumstance more treacherous than he expected. First, there comes a suspicious offer from Tom Duffy(Paul Giamatti), the senior campaign manager of the opposite camp. Does he seriously consider Meyers as an important talent to be scouted, or does he have the other sneaky intentions? While realizing that Duffy’s offer is not as trivial as he thought, Meyers also comes to face some truth which can potentially be fatal to the campaign – he must do something about it.
While we may complain that the story is familiar and predictable, the director George Clooney, who adapted Beau Willimon’s play “Farragut North” with his partner Grant Heslov and Willimon, presents us an interesting, if not revealing, look at the combative political process before the main election. While it is very hard to go through the presidential election, it is also really hard to go through the selection process before that. Even though they are in the same party, they can be ruthless and nasty to each other because of the political success in front of them. Having observed the GOP primary in this year, which is darkly and insanely comic compared to this film, I was not that surprised at all by what I saw in the film. As a matter of the fact, considering the recent news about South Korean politicians(we’re also ready for the presidential election in this year), this trend seems to be quite universal.
While you may not be enlightened by what Clooney tries to tell you, you can be at least entertained by the good ensemble assembled by him. While Clooney takes a backseat as the smooth politician you can like, Ryan Gosling is dependable as the hero who comes to learn that he should know better about the field he runs into. Gosling can be likable as shown in “Crazy, Stupid, Love”(2011) and also can be enigmatic as shown in “Drive”(2011), and here he shows us the plausible progression of his character’s inner transformation while rarely overstating it. When we see his face in the last scene, we come to see how much different Meyers becomes as a wiser political animal. As other people around him realize, he is a quick learner who can apply his lesson to the situation as soon as he learns it.
Gosling and Clooney are surrounded by the colorful supporting cast. As the experienced and jaded seniors of their dirty world, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti respectively have the dialogues to be delivered with gusto, and both do deliver them as well as they are demanded. Jeffrey Wright is notable as an opportunistic politician willing to side with whoever gives him a better offer, and Marisa Tomei is sexy and sparky as a journalist who cannot be stopped unless you give her a tasty scoop, and Evan Rachel Wood is a young intern who gets close to Meyer and then turns out to be a crucial factor in the second half of the story.
While I was watching “The Ides of March”, Mike Nichols’ “Primary Colors”(1998) instantly came to my mind and I noticed several similarities shared by both. I think that movie is a better movie about politics due to its more insightful view on politics and its inherent negative sides resulted from human flaws, but I want to say that “The Ides of March” is a good film with the message of which we have to be reminded again from time to time whenever we are supposed to vote. Cynicism is not good for us – but neither can idealism be.