The Ides of March
by Mariusz Zubrowski
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There’s one thing that I have tried to avoid more than death and taxes: Politics. As a young adult slowly becoming accustomed to bureaucracy, the countless sex and corruption scandals involving politicians that I’ve heard growing up has made me jaded and cynical of the system as a whole. Thankfully, there are films like The Ides of March, which offer sneering accounts of the individuals meant to represent us. And although it doesn’t say anything truly groundbreaking or is as provocative as it tries to be, it’s well-acted and competently directed enough to keep the majority of audiences actively engaged.
The film is helmed, written by (alongside with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon), and headlined by George Clooney and is an exposé into the seedy world of civics. At the crux of this drama are Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), an idealistic newbie presidential candidate; Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), one of his staffers, who admirably claims to fight, not for a job at the White House, but for what he believes in; Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Morris’ senior aid, who cares more about victory than agendas; Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who works for the Republican candidate, Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell); Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), an intern and daughter of a politician with some dark secrets of her own; Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei), a manipulative journalist who casually exchanges sexual favors for the latest exclusive scoop with Zara; and finally, Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), whose support could turn the tides to either side’s favor.
However, for those expecting fair-and-balanced viewpoints, I must specify that there is a slight political slant. It’s uncertain whether Clooney, as a liberal and one of the film’s writers, intended this or if these were subconscious choices that somehow fell into place. But personally, as someone with no ties to any political party (other than that of the innocent onlooker), I didn’t find the few biases as distracting as some diehard Conservatives might. As one might expect, Governor Morris is the epitomic Democrat: Pro-choice, opposed to war, the death penalty, and for the common man, rather than major corporations. Whereas Duffy is the conniving Republican, out to sling mud alongside all the other elephants. But, unless you’re a fanatical Tea-Partyer (then again, you would probably have already decided to steer clear of the film), you’ll realize that The Ides of March is set up as a Shakespearean tragedy rather than a docudrama. The title itself references the assassination of Julius Caesar (who, as many know, The Bard wrote about), because much like the Roman leader, Morris’ attention to the modern-day plebs leads him to be disliked by today’s suit-donning nobility, who attempt to secure power for themselves and the aristocratic elite.
Good writing was obviously important for the filmmakers (as it should be). They do a fantastic job in balancing rapid-fire dialogue with atmospheric silence, while keeping the overly-didactic monologues to manageable low. The interplay between Morris and Myers is especially interesting. The former’s lines are so (suitably) charismatic and convincing that it’s no wonder why so many people chose to drink the Kool-Aid.
And despite it being Clooney’s film, Gosling steals the show once more, proving to be one of the most talented actors in the business. Stephen Myers is like many of his other roles, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The actor is incredibly skilled at playing characters that are calm, cool, and collected on the outside, but when provoked, become fiery and unpredictable. When push comes to shove, Myers’ career is threatened, and he acquires the right bargaining chip, there’s nothing anyone can do or say to stop him; the once charming public speaker becomes a selfish, oftentimes stoic, bully. Despite Morris being the focal point of the film and Clooney’s strong onscreen presence, Gosling’s powerhouse performance makes Stephen’s transformation the more resonant.
Marisa Tomei dominates over the supporting cast. Her work, however, is more low-key, and easy to underappreciate. The actress exerts a sort of unexplainable allure, where even when Ida resorts to blackmail, there is trustworthiness in her. Maybe that’s why the New York Times chose to hire Miss Horowicz, or perhaps, whoever was in charge was also taken aback by her subtle charm.
Though, there are better, more informative, political thrillers on the market. In many ways, The Ides of March is a tad underwhelming, never quite being as inventive as it could’ve been. But in others, it succeeds not only as Oscar bait, but also as thoroughly entertaining cinema. And that’s enough to warrant my endorsement.
Mariusz Zubrowski is a student at the New York Film Academy. One of the youngest professional critics on the net, he’s only 18 years old and has already written for several online publications. Currently, Mariusz spends his free time running The Corner Society, a ‘webzine’ that caters to unknown authors.
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