Stars: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Evan Rachel Wood
Writers: George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on the stage play FARRAGUT NORTH by Beau WIllimon
Director: George Clooney
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: October 7, 2011
THE IDES OF MARCH takes its title from Shakespeare’s play JULIUS CAESAR, referencing the date of the emperor’s assassination. Nothing quite so drastic happens in this drama, based on Beau Willimon’s stage play FARRAGUT NORTH (where most political consultants wind up after they’re done with the campaign trail), although there is abundant tragedy by the end.
THE IDES OF MARCH is very erudite and articulate, with sharp insights; in some ways, it’s like a much bitterer version of THE WEST WING. It’s brilliantly acted and has a really intriguing storyline about how ego and wounded pride can have horrible unintended consequences. However, the ads make it seem like the film is about political principle, when in fact, the plot mechanics of THE IDES OF MARCH could have been set in just about any industry.
At the outset, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is a true believer in both his mentor, campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and theU.S.presidential candidate they both work for, Democratic Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Grant Heslov). Morris in turn truly believes in his political values and seems unwilling to compromise, even if it means getting an endorsement from a powerful senator (Jeffrey Wright) who carries a lot of delegates. Morris is vying for the party nomination against another candidate whose campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), plays dirty. Exactly how dirty is what Stephen finds out when he makes the big mistake of talking with Duffy and then hesitating to mention the meeting to Paul. In the mix, there’s also a sexy twenty-year-old intern, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), who has eyes for Stephen; her father (Gregory Itzin) is a powerful player in the Democratic party.
When the film is engaged in actual political debate and dealing with issues, one can almost viscerally feel the filmmakers’ delight. The debate dialogue, the strategy arguments and the reasoning behind them all are delivered with intelligence, passion and even humor, whenever this last quality is appropriate. Gosling convinces us that Stephen is a man who cares about very little, but what he does care about, he does with heart and soul. It stands to reason that when he feels betrayed, and more, when he feels complicit in his own injury, he is capable of becoming an implacable force. Clooney shows here that he could hold his own in running for office in reality; he’s got the crowd-pleasing public face down perfectly, with private charm that can become secretive fury under the right circumstances. Hoffman is perfectly cast as the seen-it-all, done-it-all Paul and Giamatti is wonderfully jovial as the ruthless Duffy. Wood is sexy and appealing, but seems a little more sophisticated than seems intended with Molly.
Director Clooney opens the film up enough to make it cinematic without overdoing it. He goes for telling images when it’s appropriate, but doesn’t get in the way of the film’s flow with trick shots.
On the one hand, there’s something to be said for a tale that turns out to be absolutely universal, as THE IDES OF MARCH does. Take away the specifics and look at what’s actually going on here, substitute a few “thees” and “thous,” and Shakespeare actually could have come up with what happens here (though the ground would be littered with actual corpses instead of just metaphorical ones by the finale). On the other hand, it feels like the script misses the chance to examine actual political disagreement by going for more basic motives in the anchors of the narrative.
Still, THE IDES OF MARCH is very entertaining. Fans of the actors and fans of thoughtful, lively movies alike should be well-pleased.
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