The Ides of March Review: A Dirty Game of Political Chicken

A hopeful, promising, and certainly liberal air resides in Governor Mike Morris, and why not? His George Clooney mug appears in Obama-esque red and blue “Believe” posters.  He’s in a close Ohio primary race against a barely seen Senator Pullman, battling for the Democratic nomination for President. Morris is a fervent environmentalist, promoting non-combustible engines, and is also a secularist. Instead of sidestepping theological morals, Morris smoothly professes his religion is to the Constitution. His goals seem plausible, except his temerity feels too fictitious, ideals that would be harshly severed in today’s uncompromising congress.

That’s not to say that “The Ides of March” insists upon sending a political message. Instead it looks at the inner-workings of the political process, it’s ideological claims falling to the wayside in light of its internal operation. In this sense, the urgency and cunning intelligence this film depicts finds some authenticity. Its glamorous exchanges of confidence are balanced by sweaty, apprehensive poll results that get constantly updated throughout. The steady flow of words proclaimed and then actually practiced muddies the Governor’s persona, but becomes ever more intriguing.

Morris, in his heated primary battle, embodies a cherished candidate, a strong contender that appeals to a striving middle class. Clooney, who directed and help write the film, begins to tarnish this figure, basing his creation off of the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon and focuses his lens upon the dirty side of bureaucratic business. This takes center stage in the middle of Morris’s campaign, where the cold blood of politics infiltrates Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), the governor’s campaign staffer and slick savaant. His indeterminable eyes infuse him with his shady characteristics, even though he blatantly proposes that Morris has to win.

Stephen obtains tutilage from his boss Paul (Phillip Seymore-Hoffman), who squares off with his counterpart Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) representing Pullman. Both Paul and Tom play the crafty veterans, using their logical cynicism to express their maniacal means. Stephen observes the up-close the tricks of the trade and also discovers the conditional realtionship between insiders and the press. Marisa Tomei plays Ida Horowicz, a New York Times reporter trying to scoop up any juicy hunches, specifically if the Morris campaign can garner the approval of a self-righteous North Carolina senator (Jeffrey Wright) and his plentiful delegates. Her early, friendly banter eases Stephen into a comfortable friendliness, but gets quickly exposed in exchange for a hearty headline.

These types of encounters only intensify the campaign trail, and Stephen’s growing hubris pushes him to audaciously make independent choices. These include a conspicuous encounter with Duffy and also kindling a relationship with Morris’s head intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood). She seduces, then plays coy, but ultimately magnetizes the young staffer into bed. Her father is in charge of the DNC, but her ominous past begins to peel away and has potential to send Stephen and Morris’s campaign into the gutter. With every meeting, with every pundit’s opinion, comes a chilling, dramatic scare, emphasized by dark, gloomy winter weather. Clooney’s extreme close-ups attempt to penetrate the external masks each politico wears, whether in public debates or casual dinners that exude the fallibility each person tries to suppress.

The writing is clever and insightful, giving an unrelenting realism that emanates through each scene, leaving you searching for redeeming nature that tries to squeak out through questionable ploys. The intelligently adapting dialogue, that zooms through witty campaign discourse and then slows during passionate political improv, is held up remarkably in its acting. Clooney the actor handles the open forums and TV spot debates with sleek severity, and is best during his drawn out discourse with his staff. Gosling, with his glossy and impenetrable gaze, steals the show. He molds himself proportionately to the changing tide of the film, taking on a heavy, vengeful tone each day that toys with with his sense of entitlement and loyalty. The sensuous displays of affection gracefully lured by Wood exaggerate this mental divide and spark impulsed reactions that allude to its iconic title.

These heightened ethical indecisions however lack a few early morning, intern-run espresso shots. It inventively comments on a dignity-exhausting process but the jogging pace lets the disappointing imposition of a still-corrupt Washington seep its way in. The intrigue of its moral ambiguity controls a bleak, exposing process, relying on cynicism that is pursued, avoided, and then becomes a last resort. Stephen, who wades into murky waters between pursuing personal ambition and giving it up for a stronger good, loses his innocence and hides a darkness we will find just as hard to disguise.

Maybe the biggest point the film works to explain is the indecisive individual/societal complex.  Morris, in one of his public Q and A’s, converses with a pundit about the death penalty. He admits that if someone murdered a member of his family he would take action, responding atypically,  “I would commit a crime for which I’d happily go to jail.” Yet, he adds, “Society has to be better than the individual.”

The Ides of March pushes this logic but also backs off its difficult premise, keeping its plot suspenseful yet only mildly challenging. Do we trust in the cause or is it lost in the dirty vessel that carries it? I’m still trying to figure that out.

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One response to “The Ides of March Review: A Dirty Game of Political Chicken

  1. This is entertaining even if suspense barely builds and pay-off revelations come with little surprise. Clooney, as a director, is also able to draw-out amazing performances from this whole ensemble cast. Great review. Check out mine when you get the chance.

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