With a directorial career that is divided in quality between the brilliant Good Night and Good Luck and the flawed Leatherheads, George Clooney returns with a film based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon. Instead of using the play’s name, the title is a quote to a famous line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – “the Ides of March”. Following the political campaign trail for Mike Morris to be elected as candidate for the Democratic Party in the upcoming election, idealistic young press officer Steven Myers becomes ensnared in dirty backroom politics.
It might be the most self-explanatory statement one can make about any political thriller: without any reference point there will be large stretches where the dialogue makes little to no sense. If you do have an interest in politics make sure you know something about the American political system; it will make George Clooney’s opus a hard experience otherwise. This issue is exacerbated by nigh on every word being centred on politics, whether it is through statements made about the political world or Clooney’s liberal agenda that is characterised in Morris.
Underneath the heavy dialogue is a story of betrayal and the loss of innocence. A loss of innocence that is somewhat questionable. Steven Myers is 30 years old and incredibly experienced for someone of his years, he states at one point that he has worked on more campaigns than people 10 years his senior. Personally, I find it somewhat unbelievable that somebody so experienced can be so ignorant to the betrayal and backstabbing that happens in the political world.
As indecipherable as it may be, the story is a much travelled one and one made all the more sweet by the lack of predictability and the solid foundation which is shattered. Myers is a likeable character at first; he has the sort of passion for his work that makes him an enjoyable to spend time with. To see his world established only for it to be destroyed with such ease paints a vivid picture of the complex nature of the political world. Just by meeting a campaign manager from the competing campaign, all of Mike Morris’ campaign leaders reveal themselves to be severely flawed people who put their own ethics above the campaign. It makes for an hypocritical juxtaposition when these people who are competition for the most powerful role in the country that demands the trust of the people when there is so much in-fighting and distrust among colleagues.
All this distrust comes to fruition in the destruction of everything that Steven Myers has known thanks to the collaborative efforts of his campaign Manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Mike Morris, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) and the unintentional influence of Molly Stearns (Rachel Evan Woods). Gosling’s third role of the year sees him repeat the performance that from Drive only with less hammers and neck stomping. He plays an ambitious young man as Driver and Myers whose sense of belonging is destroyed because of influences beyond his control, after which he goes on the war path. The important difference is that in the Ides of March, Steven Myers becomes emotionally ruined and uses any all means at disposable to get back everything he knows and loves.
Although Gosling is bound to get the most praise and plaudits for his performance, he isn’t the only actor who is at the top of his game. Paul Giamatti is as stunning as ever, maybe even more so as the morally vague Tom Duffy, the same sentiment echoes to Hoffman too. They both are unknown quantities that have a bottled rage that is ready to go off at any moment. The two characters might hate each other but they are both given life and nuance by the two acting heavyweights. The first of the only two female roles is from Marisa Tomei as an almost mechanical comic book characterture of the journalist who adds danger and threat. Rachel Evan Wood as campaign intern Molly provides respite from politics through her a tragic personal life, an emotional story with heft thanks to a breakthrough performance.
The Ides of March is brilliantly directed by Clooney, the way in which is it shot leaves questions unanswered. There is an important scene late on in the film where there is a discussion in a car, instead of joining the discussion the camera hovers outside. A scene which echoes the true sentiment of the film, this isn’t a film defined by personal politics; it’s one that is dictated by the power of what done and not said. As engrossing as it is, it’s a critic’s film. One that is easier to respect for how well constructed it is than one to enjoy.
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