The Ides of March (2011)

Written by  //  November 28, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  Comments Off on The Ides of March (2011)

“You can lie, you can cheat, you can start a war, you can bankrupt the country. But you can’t f*** the interns. They get you for that.”

That’s Rule #1 of Presidential elections, according to Stephen Meyers, an up-and-coming campaign manager (played by Ryan Gosling).  He’s successful, knows how the game works and is not green behind the ears. He knows that elections aren’t great, well-intentioned battles between highly competent people. It’s about hoping that the voters think the deep blue sea is worse than the devil. Everybody is a pawn on somebody’s game board.

The Ides of March charts the events preceding the American Democratic Party presidential primaries in Ohio and the valuable life lessons learnt by all the characters.  Off the bat, the most striking thing about the film is that Ryan is the new George Clooney. And George is the new Marlon Brando.  With a supporting cast (Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Philip Seymour Hoffman) that played off each other brilliantly and did justice to the excellent dialogue, this film stayed true to its Thespian origin.  Rembrandt lighting and Alexandre Desplat’s moody, vintagey music between scenes gave the film an air of quiet drama.  If this extensive set-up hadn’t yielded any conspiratorial plots and skulduggery, I’d have been thoroughly disappointed (spoiler alert: I wasn’t).

While it is tempting to see this film as the story of Gosling’s loss of innocence,  there’s more to it than meets the eye.  None of the characters are what they seem.  George Clooney while coming across as the dream candidate, who has everything working for him, learns a valuable lesson in the importance of discretion. Gosling is an old hand at political intrigue, but all it took was one charismatic man to make him wonder if, perhaps there was something to the whole ‘honour’ shtick after all. Evan Rachel Wood is just a lowly intern, but she’s also the daughter of a very powerful politician. She’s mature and sexually confident, but she’s also just 20 years old. The scenes with Wood and Gosling were sizzling with chemistry– he’s the boss, she’s just an intern but she’s the one who’s leading the waltz.  I’m sure I don’t need to say anything about Giamatti and Hoffman, who despite having comparably less screen time, carved memorable characters. But be warned, Hoffman: you are in imminent danger of getting typecasted as The Foul-mouthed and Dishevelled Politico.

George Clooney plays Mike Morris, a presidential candidate whose optimism and principles are infectious. But eventually, everybody disappoints without fail; we are not built to live up to others’ expectations.  Even the most admirable will fall, and take with them the last vestige of any idealism you may have ever had.

The thing about George is that, while he’s terribly handsome, smart, has crinkly eyes, etc, he just… Clooneys around, you know? It becomes hard to separate suave and sexy George from the suave and sexy character he’s supposed to be playing, barring some memorable films like Syriana (2005) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). If he’s keen on winning a Best Actor Oscar, he needs to be less suave and charm-oozy  (since the Academy is refusing to institute that Award for Best Clooney in a Motion Picture).  Fortunately, George pulls off Morris’ character very well. He’s the young, optimistic and honourable politician, reminiscent of JFK and Obama– the cool, hands-on kind of guy who’s in love with his wife. But under that charismatic veneer, he always seems too good to be true. Which, as you know, usually means that it isn’t true.

While one could find a number of minor things to quibble over, the film’s backbone is its simple plot, superb lines and the confidence with which it let the actors rather than events take centre stage.

I was somewhat disdainful of Stephen Meyer’s decisions; what else was he expecting from a politician, I remember wondering. In politics, isn’t everyday is the Ides of March? Is is a sign of how disillusioned we’ve become when we are smug (even relieved) about Mike Morris’ fallibility? If the film-makers’ aim was to show us what manner of creatures we’ve become, then by Clooney, this is a better film than I thought possible.

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