Don’t Beware “The Ides of March” (2011)

Being a Canadian, I’m endlessly fascinated by the American Political system.  You guys have it all: controversy; intrigue; interesting (usually in more ways than one) political candidates.  For me, watching American politics is often like bearing witness to a well-written “reality” television show.  The characters are believable enough as human beings to suspend your disbelief, but there’s just enough cookyness to keep the audience tuned in.  In contrast, Canadian politics are dull, uninteresting, and often uneventful.  What I’m trying to say is, as an outsider looking in, American politics — as flawed as they may sometimes be — are pretty damn awesome and interesting.  The Ides of March is no different.

Ryan Gosling, capping off what has been a freaking amazing year for him, plays Stephen Myers, a Democratic junior campaign manager trying to get his candidate, Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) into the Democratic primary.  Throughout the film he’s forced to a series of tough choices that eventually lead to his involvement in a massive political scandal the likes of which could completely end the campaign he’s trying to win.  Stephen is essentially Ryan Gosling if he were a bit more interested in politics: young, attractive, smart, and talented.  And George Clooney as Mike Morris is exactly the type of person who could conceivably completely capture the imagination of someone like Gosling, he’s ambitious, isn’t willing to sacrifice his morals, and really, really liberal.  A lot of the negative reviews I’ve read regarding this film focus quite heavily on criticizing Clooney’s political views (he’s also the director of the film). I can kind of understand where these people are coming from — there are a great many scenes of just Clooney speaking about the way in which his country could be improved — but I never found it to be heavy-handed or preachy enough that it was able to completely ruin the rest of the film for me.

Furthermore, this movie isn’t really about politics, it’s an intriguing tale about the interplay between loyalty and morals.  Gosling, as the young and naive junior campaign manager is forced to bear the burden of his candidates poor choices.  As a result he’s forced to choose between selling out a person he deeply respects and believes can actually improve his country — the moral choice — or shrugging aside his moral standards and overlooking his idol’s character flaws — the choice of loyalty. The story is set within the context of a political campaign, but the moral of said story is much more basic.  Criticizing a film just because you don’t agree with the politics of one of its characters (and it’s director, to an extent) doesn’t really hold much water when the film really isn’t about those politics to begin with.

In terms of acting pedigree, no film besides perhaps Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy will be able to best The Ides of March this year.  When I first took a look at the cast list for this film — great actors like P.S. Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, and Marissa Tomei — I was reluctant to get excited.  A lot of films of the past have had really great casts, but failed when it came to actually finding something for all of it’s actors to do.  The Ides of March isn’t among those films.  It’s actually kind of impressive watching Clooney somehow manage to give all of his actors the screen-time they deserve.  Marissa Tomei is only really on screen for no more than 7-10 minutes, but coming out of the theater you will still feel her presence in the film.  The credit for that can’t all be attributed to Clooney of course, Tomei as well as the rest of her cast, including Evan Rachel Wood as Gosling’s love interest, are all in top form.

What I found most intriguing about the film is the sort-of behind the scenes look at American politics it offers.  Of course I realize that most campaigns aren’t nearly as interesting as they are in Ides, but as wild as the drama gets it never borders on unbelievability.  With any political drama there’s always the fear that I’ll get lost amongst all of the technical jargon.  As interested as I may be in American politics I can’t claim to have any sort of extensive knowledge of exactly how the system works.  Thankfully, while the Ides of March is a movie about America, it’s not made solely for Americans.  Clooney handles the more technical aspects of the American political system well, I was never confused or lost even with my somewhat minor wealth of political knowledge.

All of this combines to form one pretty damn good movie.  A movie that, besides from a slightly disappointing ambiguous ending, I can’t really bring myself to criticize.  It’s an intriguing story masterfully transported on to the screen by both cast and director.  While you may not necessarily agree with Clooney’s politics, his talent for crafting an interesting narrative and then transporting it on to the screen is unquestionable.

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Categories: Reviews

Author:Ryan Crockett

Super-geek and cinephile, artist and writer, Ryan Crockett knows way too much about the French Revolution.

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One Comment on “Don’t Beware “The Ides of March” (2011)”

  1. October 8, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

    A good review, and I thought as much. To people who are… outsiders… this is an excellent film.

    All I can say is be careful what you wish for. The next time you see a drab, boring, dull, uninteresting, uneventful Canadian political event, be GRATEFUL. American politics are such a mess right now, its an enormous source of frustration and anger here. We’re a country being lorded over by a broken system, its very difficult to be supportive of it.

    All that aside, this is a very very good movie. I just cant help but think this flick has the world’s worst timing. As we tweeted, this movie is playing to very small, very old crowds.

    Most movies are in a rush to get to DVD… if I were this studio… I’d let this flick chill before putting it out for home video. LOL

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