At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Ides of March “2011”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Political Drama/ Stars: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin, Michael Mantell/ Runtime: 101 minutes

I think it is worth noting that noteworthy film helmer/ actor George Clooney manages to engage us, the audience in a little match of political doubletalk right off the bat when it comes to his 2011 drama The Ides of March. I say this because not only is the film’s title a reflection of the timeframe that is the traditional Ohio Primary which is usually held in March, but it is also alluding to the proverbial “Ides of March” from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that deal with Caesar’s assassination at the hands of his trusted friend Brutus. Suffice it to say then that this is thankfully a metaphor, rather than to be taken literally, for the modern-day contest of political games, but particularly the critical attack move known simply as the backstab (oh the irony). At the same time however, The Ides of March is also, at its core, the tale of an awakening very much undesired, and of coming to realize the truth about life in the world of politics, about how every day in that world is like a chess match, and about the various conflicts that exist in the upper echelons of political power. It is also the story of idealism being viciously rubbed out like a stain on some clothes and how a pair of the proverbial rose-colored glasses are viciously stomped on until nothing salvageable remains when a young, skilled, but unbearably naïve rising through the ranks political advisor unwittingly becomes involved in a game he’d rather not have any involvement in whatsoever, but finds that his only chance to come out on top is not to cling to those things which got him to where he is now, but rather to play as dirty as those higher up than him despite the fact that this is a game that now and always comes with consequences. Not just for those who play the game, but for everyone around them as well. Indeed, thanks to a riveting narrative and truly engaging work on both sides of the camera, The Ides of March is proof that sometimes we really are better off not seeing certain things especially when it concerns the world of politics.

The plot is as follows: The Ides of March starts its riveting tale by taking us to the slim few hours remaining before an essential debate in the Ohio Democratic Primary between the Governor of Pennsylvania Mike Morris and a Senator from Arkansas by the name of Ted Pullman. A debate which, we soon discover, is our introduction to Morris’ ideals-saddled and young Deputy Campaign Manager Stephen Meyers. Meyers, we are soon able to ascertain, is good at what he does, sharp as a tack, and with no hesitation devoted to both his candidate and the ideals that the candidate holds dear both while campaigning and during his time as governor. In fact, Meyers is on the fast track to such an extent that even the other side wants him. A fact made evident courtesy of a telephone call from the opposition’s campaign manager who offers him the chance to come work for him instead. Yet Meyers instead chooses loyalty to the governor and decides to tell his boss Morris’ Campaign Manager Paul Zara know as well as to tell him that the opposition is trying to get an endorsement from a Senator from North Carolina of some renown and influence by the name of Franklin Thompson and are willing to offer him the chance to be Secretary of State in exchange for said endorsement. A chess move incidentally that Morris and his team have vehemently refused to even consider despite also being in the process of trying to woo Thompson as well. However things soon get even shakier when Meyers starts seeing a young intern on the campaign by the name of Molly who, he soon discovers, has a secret that if discovered could be the proverbial nail in the coffin for Morris and his campaign. Thus can our intrepid hero keep a firm grip on his idealism even though he is slowly, but surely sinking further and further into the political quicksand with each and every twist and curve in the road?

Now on a superficial level, I guess the reason why so a fair number of you might choose to engage in this particular slice of cinematic pie will have be due to its immersive look into the technicalities that go into politics to say nothing of the things that can mold and form a particular campaign besides iconic lines from the debates, the overwhelming number of ads the candidates unleashed upon us or even the media storm that ensues whenever a candidate goes anywhere or says anything. Indeed at no point in time do you ever get the feeling that politics is about who a candidate truly is or if the values they claim to possess are genuine, but instead seems to be more about looks, who the media adores, and who’s willing to play dirty. Heck even when looked at through the eyes of the general public does politics seem to be devious in nature, and that is something that this film manages to showcase by showing us what 98% of us don’t see when it comes to the game that is politics. Indeed the conflict at the heart of this movie is the inevitable impact between this dark and cynical world and a still idealistic political powerhouse and his learning that the truth about this game is that genuinely believing in your candidate doesn’t hold up much if any weight. Rather it is all about winning no matter what the cost to either the other side or to your own set of beliefs. Yes, in all fairness, I do concede that is a tad bit unrealistic that a young man such as our main character could get to where he is and yet know so little about the true nature of the game he is a part of, but it helps make for more riveting cinema to see his ideals literally torn to shreds by the veteran pros who are responsible for pushing him to become a kind of person that he never wanted to become.

It should also be noted that co-star/ helmer George Clooney also does a wonderful job of providing this film with what looks like a wonderful amount of authenticity. Yes, you the movie goer might have to just accept at face value what you are shown so far as in regards to the material set behind the scenes, but at least on a superficial level the film is fairly accurate in how it depicts the daily odds and ends of a life in politics. Of course the fact that the film also alludes to modern people and causes whilst also putting in real-life people in the world of political news really gives the movie a positive boost in the realm of realism. Just as good if not better however is the fact that Clooney, in terms of his performance, does give a performance that actually feels real. Indeed he manages to feel very much like a veteran candidate as well as a lifelong member of the political community both in how he handles himself around the media or during a debate, but also in how he deals behind closed doors with his closest advisors who have no regard for having a conscience, but have all the regard in the world for winning. To that end, it should be note that Clooney’s character is, albeit to a lesser extent, a reflection of Gosling’s since Morris is also a character who holds very near and dear a set of both values and principles that is most definitely admirable especially for a politician nowadays. Indeed it is this aspect that what helps make The Ides of March so effective and that is because, as we come to learn, Morris’ politics and values really don’t matter that much on a superficial level. This is because the film isn’t about Morris or Meyers’ values or principles, but rather is about the burning away of their principles. Indeed the fact that the film, for the most part, is able to put partisanship and politics to the way side is most definitely a positive in the film’s favor. Yes there are those who lean a certain way politically who might not be fond of some of the opinions stated in the movie, but overall this is a film about the “machinations of politics” instead of being about the version of politics that seemingly runs rampant more than ever on the news nowadays.

In addition to the other positives that I have mentioned, it is worth noting that The Ides of March also has a powerhouse support cast that is then made even better due to the thespians portraying the characters bringing their A-Game to the film thus taking the movie up another notch or 3. Indeed the one-upmanship and political wheeling and dealing utilized by both Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in this is truly top-notch. Indeed, more than anyone else, these 2 men are the genuine intellect and brawn to their respective campaigns to the point that the film makes it clear that, compared to these 2, the candidates are simply figureheads no more, and no less. To that end, it should be said that Hoffman and Giamatti both do terrific at being not only both subtle and despicable in equal measure, but also at giving us a pair of intellectual giants who have the skill to play the game of politics, but who have tossed aside both their honesty and morals in order to do so. Indeed this dynamic duo really does manage to be the best possible contrast to Gosling who, as our de-facto main character, finds himself forced to be both of these men courtesy of abandoning his principles and sense of morality at the door should he desire to continue to play in the game, but also to beat these two pros at their own game. We also get terrific work from Jeffrey Wright as the top prize in the political game being showcased in the movie. Indeed Wright, much like Clooney, has the political style down brilliantly even if his chance to show it courtesy of screen time is nowhere near as much. Finally, on the other side of the camera it should be noted that this film is terrific as well. Indeed a steady hand at the helm, wonderful photography, and terrific work both in regards to production values and decorating the set really increase how authentic the film is to say nothing of how Clooney’s skill at visually strengthening the dark themes at play with both low amounts of light and shadows also is at highlighting the more integral parts to the film thus making this a true delight both in front of and behind the camera in equal measure.

All in all it goes without saying, but The Ides of March really truly is a wonderful film about the political games within the world of politics itself in the spirit of a film such as Primary Colors. Indeed that too was a film, much like this one, about the little seen, and behind closed doors land that exists just behind the public appearances, the newsworthy moments, and the iconic sound bites that can either make or break a political campaign. At the same time however, there is also a more immersive narrative and a genuine and quite human drama to this film as well. This of course would be a saga about the loss of both innocence and optimistic beliefs in a world where such things cannot exist for very long if ever. Indeed this film’s story may suffer because it isn’t as gripping as it ought to be, but thankfully the film still manages to be strongly made in nearly every other aspect thus resulting in a slice of cinematic pie which should appeal to lovers of politics on both sides of the proverbial aisle as well as those of you who are just wanting to sit down and enjoy a genuinely riveting drama. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Ides of March a solid 3.5 out of 5.