The Ides of March Review
It wasn't even a month ago that we fell in love with Ryan Gosling all over again, thanks to the Nicolas Winding Refn indy-ish crime drama "Drive". As a nameless "Driver" in the film, Gosling takes a character and a script that may have been forgettable or derivative on their own and really delivers something special.
Did Gosling, along with the help of heavyweights (no pun intended) such as Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney, manage to do the same thing with his latest starring role in "The Ides of March"?
The answer is a resounding yes.
In Drive, Gosling plays a tough guy, a man of few words, a man with one amazing skill, behind the wheel of a car. In some very different ways, Gosling character in the Ides of March, Stephen Meyers, is equally tough and skilled.
In the film, Meyers is the mastermind behind the campaign of Mike Morris, the Governer of Pennsylvania and one of two finalists for the Democratic nomination for the next presidential election. Myers has a good working relationship with both Morris and his boss Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the campaign manager, and their campaign is looking great, ahead in the polls and nearly a lock to not only win the nomination but also the presidency (insert potshot at the Republicans here).
*Warning, some spoilers ahead*
Things all start going to shit, however, when Stephen takes a meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who offers him a job on Morris' rival's campaign, and drops a bombshell; the delegates that Morris and his campaign were counting on to win the Ohio primary were actually going to Duffy's candidate after they promised him a cabinet post in the White House. Soon thereafter, Stephen also finds out that an intern at the campaign, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) -- who he's been sleeping with -- had an... encounter with Morris, and yadda yadda yadda, she has to go to the abortion clinic.
If that wasn't enough, Paul is none too happy with Stephen for taking a meeting with Duffy, so he unceremoniously fires him after leaking the meeting to a reporter (Marissa Tomei). Stephen vows to take everyone down with him, from Paul to Morris and, maybe unbeknownst to him, Molly, who also happens to be the daughter of an important Democrat (played by 24 villain Gregory Itzin, who needs more roles like now).
Things go from bad to worse, and Stephen is faced with a tough decision: Make things right, or use the situation to his advantage and play dirty, like all the people around him.
The message in The Ides of March is a simple one. No matter whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, politics are dirty, and they can corrupt the cleanest and most idealistic people who decide to make it their livelihood. Just like in Drive, Gosling's character is a generally nice guy who is forced into actions and decisions that he may not like. He doesn't bust any heads or crash any cars, but politically, Stephen Meyers actions at the end of the film are definitely the equivalent of the Driver's in his previous movie.
The beauty of this political thriller is in its ability to build tension. From its well placed music, from the moments where it decides to give us dialogue, to other moments where music or silence is much more effective, from simply the looks between characters, the subtlety in "March" really set it above and beyond most of the other movies of the year. For the better part of two hours, you can feel the anger, hatred, and eventually, the well justified corruption in Gosling's character festering. His timing is perfect, and it really helps get the movie's point across. It doesn't hurt that he's surrounded by A-listers like Clooney and Hoffman either for most scenes.
Speaking of Clooney, this is obviously his brainchild. The film is based on a critically-acclaimed 2008 play by Beau Willimon titled Farragut North, which follows the campaign of Howard Dean in 2004, adapted for screen by Clooney, Willimon, and Grant Heslov (Good Night, And Good Luck, The Men Who Stare at Goats), and directed by Clooney. You definitely get the impression that this was made by Clooney early in the film. Morris' speeches and ideals definitely fit those of Clooney's, but he does a good job of skirting the line of preachiness. Morris isn't portrayed as a man without faults, despite all the frauded Obama "Hope" posters that are shown throughout the film. And neither is any other character. For better or worse, everyone in The Ides of March has a shade of grey to him, and it's what makes the film works.
Lately, we've all had to roll our eyes with every new Clooney film, as they tend to be pretty boring and preachy about one subject or another. I couldn't sit through more than 30 minutes of Good Night, And Good Luck, and I was definitely dreading the same for "March". But it seems as if Clooney's finally hit his stride as a writer and director, his ability to immerse you in a story that would be boring told by your local political pundits.
We all know that politics is a dirty game. This isn't news. And while the film may try to present it to us as breaking news at times -- maybe the script's only fault -- The Ides of March isn't specifically about the dirty game that is politics, or sleazebag politicians who can't keep their hands off the interns. It's really about the coming of age of a man who put his ideals ahead of his career, and acted like he was above all that, despite the fact that the moment he took that meeting -- the catalyst for the film's events -- he became just as narcissistic as the rest of them. It's about a young man shedding his innocence. The politics, the debates, the platforms, all of that is just a setting.
Everything about this film works, and if we can't thank Ryan Gosling for all of it, then we can definitely appreciate Clooney for being able to do what all of the characters in the film were clearly unable of doing -- see beyond his own narcissism, and just like Stephen Meyers, use it to his advantage.
The Ides of March is original, refreshing, and contains a powerful message not only about politics, but also about the inherent evil in all of us as individuals. And as a result, it's one of the best movies of the year.
9 out of 10.