Starring: Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei
Review: Politics is a tricky game. On a foundation of idealism politics has to wade through the real world and humanity that always seems to get in the way. We have reached a point in our society that it is no longer about doing what's right and touting something you believe in. Those ideals have been replaced with the the pursuit of power and the thrill of victory. So great are these goals that people take whatever steps are necessary in order to achieve them.
'The Ides of March' is a smart, well written, well acted and well directed look at the current state of American Politics. Our system has reached a point where backdoor deals are done that are not in the best interest of the country, not something people believe in, but what will get them the most votes and put them into a position of power. Virtues such as loyalty and trust, which are seemingly valued by all, are had by none. Politics is a cat-and-mouse game played and only the smartest mice and biggest cats get to play and only the craftiest of each actually get to win.
Mike Morris (Clooney) is the governor of of Pennsylvania looking to grab the presidential nomination. His longtime friend and senior campaign manager Paul (Hoffman) will do what it takes to win, but he is flanked by Steven the young hotshot assistant (?) campaign manager who wholeheartedly believes in Morris. As Steven is told early on about politicians "they all disappoint you in the end," but Steven doesn't buy it. Morris is different, Steven knows it, and he believes in what Morris stands for.
Steven can only get behind something or someone that he completely believes in. You get the sense that the older more experienced campaigners like Paul and Duffy (Giamatti - who runs the rival candidate's campaign), look at him as the youthful do-gooder type they once were. You can't be a veteran of politics for 20+ years and still believe in what you're doing. The game will catch up to you in the end, it's all just a matter of time.
Constantly confronted with those who try to inform and prepare him of this reality, he chooses not to accept it. He doesn't have to because he has the candidate who is different from all the rest. This one is for real and he's going to make changes happen. However, just as he was warned, Morris does let him down. Steven now has to try and pick up the pieces as his entire world and belief structure has been turned upside down.
Feeling betrayed, Steven has to make a choice of whether or not to use the situation to his advantage - as many of the savvy vets of the campaign business would - or to stand on his principles and no longer back the man he once idolized. Gosling's character is put in quite a situation here and has to play multiple sides.
What Steven later finds out is that this game that he thought he had under his thumb has spun out of control and his life/career has spun off with it. He laments to another campaign worker that the business they are in is a "big boy business" and "if you make a mistake then you lose the right to play." Well he finds out the mistake he made and now he has to find a way to still play.
Through all this Clooney as a director paints a rather bleak picture with a not-so-positive outlook on American politics. Seemingly taking shots at both sides (although some slightly below the belt riffs on the Republican side, Clooney is after all a very outspoken liberal Democrat), Clooney chooses to depict politics as a ruthless cutthroat game where only the amoral survive by manipulating and taking advantage of every situation they can.
I've never been good at playing games and never had much of a stomach for politics. Whether that be office politics, social politics, or anything of the sort, it hasn't been something that has appealed to me. I have always been a big proponent of being forthright and straight up with people, so the political world has never been something that I have understood completely.
I think at this point the majority of Americans probably have a more negative view of politics than positive and it shows in this film. The point gets hammered home that only the strong survive and we see most of the characters compromise most of their beliefs and do things they don't believe in to get what they want.
Loyalty is in short supply in politics and in this movie. So much so that the only character in the film who truly values loyalty is the one who is the worst off in the end. Politics is a dangerous, take-no-prisoners game and if you play wrong or with the wrong people, you wind up on the losing end.
It is Clooney's sure hand as a director that slowly drives this point in with a calm confidence. He is aided by a cast of excellent actors none showing more gravitas than Gosling. As an actor George Clooney plays his roles with such effortless, stone-cold charisma that it is hard for many actors to go toe-to-toe. Gosling is able to do it with ease. It is truly a testament to him as a burgeoning actor that he is able to manifest that level of charisma and ability.
With it's solid writing, excellent directing, and spot on acting this movie is surely worth your time.