Last semester, I was driving to teach my class at Miami University when I saw a Mike Morris for President bus parked on campus. I was confused for a split second before I remembered that George Clooney was in town to film The Ides of March. For most of the week a street on campus was closed and traffic was a little hairy. As a result, one of my closest friends got a series of parking tickets for which she holds Clooney personally responsible. After finally seeing The Ides of March I couldn’t even tell my friend her fiasco was the result of a good movie in the making. Instead, this film is disjointed and depressing.
The Ides of March follows Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a young and idealistic staffer for a presidential campaign as he learns lessons about politics that he thought he already knew. Stephen believes his boss, Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), is the real deal—an optimistic, honest politician (sound familiar?) with the knowledge and desire to serve his nation. In the days leading up to the tense Ohio primary, he experiences a series of betrayals that disenchant him from his own optimism and threaten his entire career. At thirty, he’s worked on an impressive number of campaigns, but he’s no match for the experience of senior staffer Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman), nosy journalist Ida (Marisa Tomei), or the manager of the competition’s campaign, Tom (Paul Giamatti). Then, his love interest, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), a young intern on the campaign, brings the tenuous web of deceit down around his ears.
To me, The Ides of March was at its best when it was developing the themes of betrayal foreshadowed by its title. The drama supplied by the plot twists, however, was not supported well enough by character development. While Stephen is fairly well developed, several of the other main characters, including Senator Morris and Molly, are pretty flat. Grated, the entire plot of the film takes place over a relatively short amount of time, but the characters feel like stock material. I did not really feel invested in Morris, so Stephen’s emotional journey did not have the impact it could have if I was more sympathetic toward his motives. Similarly, Molly goes through some heavy stuff in the film, but I had no reason, beyond human decency, to care. The whole movie would have worked so much better if the characters had been written more fully.
That said, the acting is stellar. Gosling transforms Stephen over the course of the movie and his rise to power and fall from idealism are expressed subtly but clearly through tense jaw muscles and furrowed brows. The amount of close-ups in the film works well with this anxiety. Wood gives a strong performance as a young girl who thinks she’s wise beyond her years, but gets in way over her head. At times she had me holding my breath. Together the pair carries the movie as Clooney, Giamatti, and Hoffman deliver good performances without doing anything out of the ordinary for their careers.
The Ides of March has a beautifully structured ending. The use of parallel imagery, irony, and a healthy dose of unresolved ambiguity load the last scenes of the film with tension. The contrast between dark corridors and the bright camera lights mirrors the duplicity of the characters. I just wish the whole movie and been as good as the last scenes. There are some well-crafted moments throughout, but most of the movie is pretty ho-hum. In short, because of the outstanding cast and the promising plotline I expected way more than what was delivered. 3/5 stars.
The Ides of March was written by Beau Willimon (based upon his play Farragut North), Grant Heslov, and George Clooney, who also directed. It runs 101 minutes and is rated R for pervasive language.