The Ides of March
By Scott Elliott
October 7, 2011
Itʼs a risky venture making a political drama at a time in our nation when political approval is at an all time low—but The Ides of March works. Perhaps because it doesn't romanticize politicians but instead delivers a realistic look at what takes place behind the curtain of the political machine. But the real reason The Ides of March is worth seeing is because of its outstanding cast and excellent screenplay ﬁlled with intriguing dialogue. Rarely do you get to see such a group of talented actors and actresses go head-to-head in a smart, thrilling drama like this.
The movie stars Ryan Gosling as an up-and-coming political advisor who is second in command to Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Morris is in a heated primary race for president of the United States. The bulk of the movie takes place in Ohio, a must-win state for both candidates. The primary plays out like a chess match between the campaign managers, Paul Zara (Paul Giamatti) and Tom Duffy (Philip Seymour Hoffman). It is a thrill to watch these two actors play off each other as they strive to gain the state for their candidate. The movie also features Evan Rachel Wood as an intern new to the political game, and Marisa Tomei, a New York Times reporter eager to get the scoop before anyone else.
The movie is directed by George Clooney, and although Clooney has sometimes pushed a political agenda on- and off-screen, viewers have nothing to worry about here. The politicians in the movie are Democrats, but the ﬁlm is not concerned with being red or blue. It is ﬁrst and foremost concerned with telling a thrilling story with politics as a backdrop. If there is any political message to be gained at all, it is a distrust in the political system. Stephen Myers (perfectly portrayed by Gosling) works for Morris because he believes in him, but as the movie develops, this trust dissipates.
Despite the absence of any clear political agenda, depiction of the political system is very accurate. Real-life pundits such as Charlie Rose, Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews all make cameos. Decisions are made and speeches are crafted on what will gain the most votes. Deals are made not because they are the right thing to do, but because they will ensure a win. Giamatti's and Hoffmanʼs characters live for this. When the candidates donʼt want to go along, it is their job to convince them.
On a deeper level the ﬁlm examines belief. Zara and Duffy have given up on belief. They are calloused and have played this game for some time, so they are not surprised when someone turns on them or a reporter prints something they donʼt like. All they are concerned about is the win, and it doesn't matter who they trample or what they give up in order to get it. In contrast, Goslingʼs character is young and somewhat naive, and he works for the campaign because he believes in what they do. As the movie develops, he must choose between turning into the campaign manager who will do anything to win, or stay true to his ideals and perhaps give up politics altogether. Although not many people have worked on political campaigns, there are many individuals who can relate to this dilemma.
Itʼs obvious from the title that the movie is about a betrayal, but itʼs never obvious who is going to be betrayed and when it will take place. We are invited into a story crafted by men who understand politics (screenwriter Beau Willimon worked on Howard Deanʼs 2004 campaign), dialogue and the ins and outs of crafting a good story. This alone may have made a decent movie, but this keen screenplay is handed over to some of the best actors and actresses of our generation who breathe life into it. If you enjoy an intelligent story and superb acting, then look no further.
Scott Elliott is a minister living in La Grange, TX with his wife and son. He graduated from Oklahoma State University and is now attending Austin Graduate School of Theology.