The Ides of March, as those of you who remember their Roman history–or at least their Shakespeare–know, is the fateful 15th of March when Brutus and his co-conspirators assassinated Julius Caesar. And now it’s yet another well-meaning and nicely put-together film by George Clooney, based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon.
Don’t expect the film to overturn the established wisdom regarding politics, i.e., anyone entering that world do so at their own peril–this is still the dirtiest game in town. The optimistic hopey-changey Hollywood message died with “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.” Nowadays, disillusionment and a hardening of both heartstrings and arteries are bound to occur. But despite not delivering anything new, the film carries itself well is so entertaining that I couldn’t believe it was over when the screen turned dark and credits started rolling.
Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a thirty year-old rookie, is high on adrenalin and power trip and the general mayhem surrounding the campaign for the democratic nomination for upcoming presidential elections. Governor Morris of Pennsylvania (George Clooney) appears to him perfect for the White House. Here is the epitome of the man who can boost morale and morals, help the poor, tax the rich, put an end to our reliance on oil, and gain back for the country the prestige lost through the war-mongering shenanigans of Bush & Co.
But, surprise, things are not what they seem. Young Stephen, viciously framed for strategic purposes, is thrown out on his ear but not before he discovers that Morris is not the paragon of rectitude he appears to be. So, compromise here, a little blackmail there, exchanges of threats and arrangements plus a sad death put the campaign on different rails altogether. The only one surprised at discovering that politicians will do anything to satisfy an immense ego and fulfill the overwhelming ambition that put them there in the first place is Stephen. Gosling, who carries Ides, plays the character well though one can wonder at the likelihood of an idealistic, dewey-eyed and rosy-cheeked young man turning overnight into a grim opportunist.
The supporting cast, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, George Clooney himself–are all excellent. Evan Rachel Wood is uncomfortable as the problematic intern and Marisa Tomei quite wasted as, wouldn’t you know it, the nosy New York Times reporter.
Critics have not, strangely, been kind to the film, criticizing everything from the errors in the depiction of an electoral campaign to the blurry moral message and the comparison to our own times peppered throughout. But I found it hugely fun and definitely worth seeing, preferably on a theater screen.