Released 2011. Director: George Clooney
“I’M NOT A CHRISTIAN. I’M NOT AN ATHEIST. I’M NOT A MUSLIM. I’M NOT JEWISH. I BELIEVE IN THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION.” With these opening words, The Ides of March comes hot on the heels of the US Presidential nomination campaign now underway. This movie is intelligent, engrossing and casts a disapproving look at the dirty tricks played by politicians and their minders.
The Ides of March assembles the year’s most ambitious cast. They are articulate, sharp, resourceful and would do anything on their way to the White House. George Clooney, in addition to directing, stars as Mike Morris, a Democrat presidential candidate. Ryan Gosling is his idealistic press secretary Stephen Meyers. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the seasoned campaign manager. Evan Rachel Wood is a young intern and Paul Giamatti is the campaign manager for the opposing Republican candidate. These are the smartest people in the room. When they open their mouths it pays to listen attentively because there are teeth in the script.
But it’s not all talk. Sex is on the agenda. Politics and sex always make for a combustible combination, and someone is sure to get hurt. The impending scandal and moral predicament leads to something else altogether. In politics, everything can change in the blink of an eye. The tables are turned so fast and in unexpected ways in The Ides of March you’d better not look away for any reason.
See how Ryan Gosling’s idealism disappears before your eyes replaced by bitter scheming. His portrayal of Stephen is a proud peacock pumped full of confidence to the point of hubris. Then he finds himself in the midst of a politically catastrophic situation about to burst wide open. The Ides of March escalates into high-tension zone as Stephen manipulates the situation to save his future, even as he’s played by others more experienced in dirty politics. It seems his career has become history before it had a chance to fly.
Everyone is busy protecting his own interests and boosting his own advantage to the expense of others, even if it means stepping over a dead colleague. One of the pleasures of watching The Ides of March is to see how the plot manoeuvres around sharp corners and negotiates the twists and turns to reach someplace safe and logical.
When we first hear the opening line “I am not a Christian. I am not an atheist,” the press secretary is only testing the microphone. The same line is repeated later as the presidential candidate delivers his speech. Two men saying the same thing. Two men in a power game nobody else knows about. The poster for this movie is a clever design with Gosling holding up to his face a folded copy of Time magazine showing half of Clooney’s face on its cover, with the text “Is this man our next President?” The question, as it becomes apparent at the end, is about which man holding real power.
The Ides of March boasts a superb cast giving thoughtful, solid performances. George Clooney’s direction is assured and economical, a stand-out moment is a locked-on shot showing Philip Seymour Hoffman stepping into Clooney’s car to be told he’s fired. The camera inches forward very slowly towards the car while nothing happens, until Philip steps out, his back to us, his shoulders slumped, the car is driven away. A simple, effective direction where no word is necessary, which is ironic in a movie where words are such lethal, powerful weapons. Indeed, The Ides of March is exceptionally written, adapted by Clooney and Grant Heslov from Beau Willimon’s play Farrgut North, right down to its new title. A tale of loyalty and betrayal that recalls Caesar and Brutus.