The Ides of March functions as a raging soap opera that concerns itself with affairs within the campaign trail for the presidency of the United States of America. The presidential candidate in question is Mike Morris (George Clooney), a moral and suave democrat whose religion is the U.S. Constitution. Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a high-ranking member of Morris’s campaign staff, is a young and optimistic professional whose judgment is clouded by his firm belief that his candidate is the only man who can solve America’s problems; “I don’t have to play dirty anymore, I got Morris.” This film is a play on assumptions, particularly the American assumption that we know who’s best for our country.
Opening with a debate in the Democratic primary between Morris and Pullman, audiences hear little about real political issues. Morris repeats throughout the film that he is not associated with Christianity, Islam, or any other religion for that matter, but he does want to protect the American right to freedom of religion. Before Morris gives the speech for the first time, Stephen quotes Morris in a very cold and dry manner while testing the microphones. The setup shows that The Ides of March is not really concerned with politics. Clooney and company sidestep the real issues at hand to instead provide standard and predictable dramatic happenings.
The film follows two parallel plots, both of which revolve around Stephen. The first plot initiates when Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the campaign manager for opposing democratic nominee Pullman, invites Stephen out for a drink at a sports bar. Stephen knows that he should not talk to Duffy, but he meets him anyway. Duffy asks Stephen to switch sides and work for him on Pullman’s campaign, because Duffy is confident in the fact that Pullman will defeat Morris and will eventually win the presidency. The question that Stephen asks himself is whether or not he wants to continue to work for a “good” man who will not win or if he wants to go all the way and land a job in the White House. The conversation with Duffy in and of itself is enough to get Stephen into trouble with Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a veteran campaign manager for Morris who highly values loyalty.
The other plotline offers the romance subplot. Stephen goes out on a date with a 20-year-old intern named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), a charming blonde bombshell with sex on her mind. Stephen and Molly keep their relationship on the hush-hush. While laying in bed together one night, Molly’s cell rings and Stephen answers the call assuming that it is his cell (everyone on Morris’s staff is given the same cellular phone for work related purposes). The caller hangs up as soon as Stephen answers the phone. In asking Molly why someone would call her so late at night, Stephen learns that it was Morris who had called and that Morris and Molly had an affair earlier in the year. Moreover, Molly is pregnant and wants money from Morris for an abortion.
The third act of the film is rampant with scenes of bickering, yelling, threatening, and lecturing. These situations seem to be blown out of proportion, however. The worst-case scenario for Stephen is the thought of losing his job. The worst-case scenario for Morris is public humiliation and the loss of the democratic primary. Suicide is quietly thrown into the story to heighten the drama in an attempt at modernizing Shakespeare, but the film ultimately glances passed it so that it can maintain it’s loudness with forced arguments about betrayal. This is Shakespeare on a microscopic level.
On a stylistic front, The Ides of March is a visually clean red-white-and-blue Hollywood drama that relies on close-ups of its beautiful and firm actors. The only truly memorable shot that comes to mind is a silhouette of Stephen standing shamed in front of a giant American flag engulfing him that works as a reference to and reversal of General Patton’s speech in the opening scene of Patton (1970). Morris’s campaign posters are recreations of Shepard Fairey’s famous “Hope” poster for Barack Obama, an attempt to foolishly remind audiences that Clooney and his character in the film identify with our current president. Like Clooney’s previous directorial outings, this film is commendable in its efforts to provide entertaining drama but it does not feel original in its ideas or presentation.
The Ides of March is an actor’s movie. That is to say that it showcases some heavy-handed performances by some of Hollywood’s most successful, respectable, and prominent players. Ryan Gosling is fierce in his transition from peaceful optimist to man-with-a-vengeance disposition. Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are exciting to watch, because Clooney directs them to yell and chew up every scene in high command. George Clooney gives a humbled performance as Morris; he knows he is not a savior and rather simply a human being who makes errors like everyone else.
Bryan Nixon is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.
The Ides of March (2011)
Director George Clooney
Screenplay George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
Original Play Farragut North by Beau Willimon
Producers George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver
Director of Photography Phedon Papamichael
Art Director Chris Cornwell
Editor Stephen Mirrione
Score Alexandre Desplat
With Ryan Gosling (Stephen Meyers), George Clooney (Governor Mike Morris), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Paul Zara), Paul Giamatti (Tom Duffy), Evan Rachel Wood (Molly Stearns), Marisa Tomei (Ida Horowicz), Jeffrey Wright (Senator Thompson)