Ides of March is a film full of political clichés: the seductive teenaged intern, the idealistic thirty-something campaign manager, and the handsome two-faced politician. However, George Clooney manages to put these pieces together in a meticulous way. Though Clooney’s conclusions about the nature of politics are predictable, his story of how an idealistic political staffer comes to these conclusions is subtle and gripping.
Contrary to the title’s suggestion, this is not a film about great acts of treachery; rather, it is a film about commonplace decisions. Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Myers, an idealistic yet shrewd campaign manager for presidential hopeful Governor Morris (Clooney). Stephen is set up as a trustworthy and upright character that never strays from his commitment to the campaign. He then makes two decisions that result in his disillusionment. First, Stephen sleeps with a forward and underage intern (Rachel Evan Wood). Second, he agrees to meet with another democratic camp’s campaign manager (Paul Giamatti) and neglects to consult Morris’ campaign head (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Stephen is then faced with a series of decisions that blur his previously steadfast values.
Ides of March’s script was adapted from a 2008 play and retains hints of its origins. The film has a clean setting in rural Iowa and relies on concise scenes. Steady action and strategically constructed dialogues allow the film to chug along at a steady and compelling pace. There is no single event that drives the plot; instead a series of understated pulls unravel the story. The characters are sympathetic and engaging, if a bit underdeveloped. All of this is stitched together by a dynamic cast. Ryan Gosling can convey a sentiment with a look or stoic one-liner, while Phillip Seymour Hoffman adds layers to a lackluster character.
In one notable scene, Governor Morris articulates the difference between his role as an individual and the role of society. Society’s job, he says, is to be better than the individual and to serve as a model for that same group. Ides of March completes a similar task for us. Though the film may over simplify the complications and ethical dilemmas of a presidential campaign, it serves as a model for other films of the political thriller genre, challenging them to be better.
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel Evan Wood, Paul Giamatti
Directed By: George Clooney
PG-13, 101 minutes
See if you liked: The Manchurian Candidate (2004)