Let’s face it, politics is dirty business! No matter how much one argues otherwise, the cold hard truth is that there are no good guys in the truest sense of the word. You cannot be a good, or even fairly decent, person and expect to make it all the way to the top. Even the people aiming to do the greater good once coming to power need to backstab and kick dirt in the faces of many to get there. In The Ides of March, George Clooney dissects into the heart of this ugly side of the political game. Brilliantly acted and skillfully directed, this film provides a cold and cynical view of politics.
The Ides of March follows the story of Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) as he works on the campaign for Democratic Presidential candidate Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) along with Mike’s campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman). As the film begins, Stephen is working on the Ohio Primary where Mike happens to be holding a slight lead over his opponent Senator Pullman. However, nothing is guaranteed and Stephen and Paul know that all might be lost unless they are able to garner support from Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) and the countless delegates he holds in his kitty. Thompson, however, is leaning towards the other side thanks to Pullman’s campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) who is willing to give him what he wants – Secretary of State. Tom also wishes to recruit Stephen to his campaign since he believes him to be the next best thing in politics. Meanwhile, Stephen also begins a casual relationship with Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), who is working as an intern, which eventually leads him to some pretty startling revelations.
I must admit that my understanding of U.S. politics doesn’t go beyond what is necessary for an International citizen; though I am familiar with the overall process. However, that did not prove to be a hindrance. Clooney hardly makes broadly sweeping statements on the current U.S. political scenario, with the exception of a few minor observations on the Middle-East situation. His primary motive is to scrutinize the levels to which people stoop in the race to come out on top, and in that, he proves to be successful. This is an ugly game where people get backstabbed with no remorse. The only thing that counts is winning, and it doesn’t matter how many people are left to ruins along the way. Yes, at times, it does seem to be a depressing view of the current state of affairs, but one can also argue that it is a fair one.
Key to the film’s success is the characterization of Stephen Meyers. In the start, he is like any other new entrant into the political world. He speaks with conviction that Mike could be a real game-changer and truly believes that what he is doing has some purpose other than just winning this election. Taken at face value, that may seem to imply that Stephen is naïve, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. As he learns how people will not hesitate to turn on him in an instant from some of his closest associates, he realizes that the only way he can stay in the game is if he does the same as well. This is a three-dimensional character, and though some of his calculated decisions towards the end seem cold, they are completely understandable given the path he has traversed to take them.
With the importance the story places on Stephen, the weight its success falls squarely on the shoulders of Ryan Gosling, and he proves to be equally capable to the task. He humanizes the character, and it is solely due to him that we are able to accept some of Stephen’s later decisions. This film, along with Drive, delivered a one-two punch for me as far as Ryan Gosling is concerned. Though I was familiar with him, I hadn’t seen nearly enough to make a judgment. He is someone who has the rare ability to act with his eyes alone and convey sentiments without speaking any words. He delivered mesmerizing performances in both the films that left me completely stunned. He also made sure that I will be keeping an eye out for his future films.
As for the supporting cast, mouth-watering doesn’t even come close to exclaiming the quality on display. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti have to be two of the best pros in the business today. In this film, they are perfectly cast. Nobody can do the role of a balls-to-the-wall superior better than Hoffman and nobody can play someone with smarts to outwit you better than Giamatti (case in point: The Illusionist). Mike Morris is a cakewalk for someone with Clooney’s talent. He doesn’t even have to try to be charismatic, his suave look and charming smile take care of that. Evan Rachel Wood was great to look at and delivered a strong performance. Marisa Tomei as the sleazy reporter Ida Horowicz (this is the kind of character I absolutely loathe), Jennifer Ehle (in a shockingly minuscule role) as Mrs. Morris, and Jeffrey Wright as Senator Thompson lend solid support.
Special mention has to be accorded to Clooney and the supporting crew he has assembled for the film. Screenplay from Clooney in collaboration with Grant Heslov and Beau Williamon is one of the leanest in recent memory. They are able to keep the running time to well under two hours and make sure we are gripped to the screen for the entire duration. I would be truly shocked if it doesn’t earn them Academy nominations at least. Alexandre Desplat’s orchestral score is superlative, never calling attention to itself but always making sure we are in sync with what is happening on-screen. The same can be said for the brilliant lenswork from Phedon Papamichael.
George Clooney also shows remarkable restraint and refrains from speaking about what is right or wrong. This isn’t a preachy motion picture talking about a change needed in the political world. In a way, it almost feels like Clooney respects the characters in his film despite their obvious negative shades. You don’t have to recognize this cynical view of human nature it provides or know a great deal about politics to enjoy The Ides of March; if you do, all the better. However, any fan of films in general will be able to appreciate what George Clooney has done here, which is provide us with a truly remarkable motion picture that ought to be seen.