THE IDES OF MARCH
***** (out of 5)
October 7, 2011
Ryan Gosling as STEPHEN MYERS
George Clooney as GOVERNOR MIKE MORRIS
Philip Seymour Hoffman as PAUL ZARA
Paul Giamatti as TOM DUFFY
Evan Rachel Wood as MOLLY STEARNS
Marisa Tomei as IDA HOROWICZ
Directed by: George Clooney
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
For some, award season started this summer with Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” For others, it started this fall with “Warrior” and “Moneyball.” For me, the release of George Clooney’s deft political drama “The Ides of March” is the green flag for the first lap. Right now, it’s the film to beat as my pick for best picture of the year.
But I didn’t come to these thought lightly. Like many other people, I turned my nose up initially at the thought of George Clooney directing a political film. After all, if I wanted partisan preaching, I’d go rent a Michael Moore documentary. But Clooney surprised me with this film, not because he didn’t have a point to make, but because he made that point independent of political views.
“The Ides of March” follows Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), a young and idealistic campaign strategist who is working on the Presidential campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Stephen believes this guy can change the country for the better, but soon his pie-in-the-sky outlook on his job becomes compromised. In the heat of the Ohio Democratic Primary, Stephen gets a disturbing look at the seedy underbelly of the American political system.
The film is based on the play “Farragut North,” which is in turn loosely based on the 2004 Presidential bid of Howard Dean. I’ll be honest, I didn’t follow Dean’s campaign. And I have never seen “Farragut North.” So I don’t know if Clooney can take full credit for this film, but he did in fact make the decisions that brought the film to the big screen, and that is good enough for me.
Clooney was smart to have kept this film framed in the context of the Democratic Primary. By keeping it to one party, it circumvents the pitfall of blaming one party or another for dirty trickery. Everything that happens in this film is the work of people on the same side of the aisle. The point isn’t that Democrats are terrible people. And if this were made about the Republicans, it wouldn’t be pointing the finger at them either. Instead, this film reveals how sleazy and smarmy the American political system can be.
The character of Stephen Myers cannot exist in the world of politics unsoiled. That much is true throughout the film. Like David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” the story shows an unattractive but necessary side of a process. Just as the salesmen in “Glengarry Glen Ross” needed to sell their souls to keep on top of the game, the characters in “The Ides of March” need to exist in a world of moral ambiguity. We all know that the ends do not justify the means, but characters like Mike Morris and Stephen Myers have to work with that worldview… or they just don’t work.
While some may characterize “The Ides of March” as slow, it’s expertly paced. The unsavory situations unfold, and while you can see them all coming, it works in a realistic and human way.
The acting is another high point in this film, featuring a great leading cast in which Ryan Gosling impresses in a great follow-up to “Drive” and Clooney directs himself into his stock character that works perfectly with the script. Supporting cast members include Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as opposing campaign members who are cut from the same cloth, Marisa Tomei as a punchy and assertive newspaper journalist (probably the most unrealistic character because I thought all those writers disappeared a long time ago) and Evan Rachel Wood as the sexy intern temptress.
And these praises mean a lot coming from me, considering I have never been a fan of Gosling. But damn if two of his films this year aren’t going to make my top ten list of 2011. (Don’t worry… “Crazy Stupid Love” won’t be on that list… I haven’t changed that much.)