It may have been two thousand years or so since Caesar met his fate at the foot of the statue of his rival, Pompey the Great, stabbed 23 times by his fellow senators, but the attraction and danger of politics are just as relevant today (if, hopefully, a little less bloody) and, as such, just as popular a theme for writers now as in Shakespeare’s day. George Clooney, who has all the charisma and good looks that one could ever look for in a political candidate, directs and stars in The Ides of March, an adaptation of the play Farragut North written by Beau Willimon, one of the co-writers with Clooney of The Ides of March.
Governor Mike Morris is in Cincinnati, where he is competing in the Democratic primary elections, a key step on the path to a possible presidency. However, The Ides of March isn’t so much the Governor’s story as that of Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a brilliant 30-year-old campaigner who nonetheless has much to learn. He works for Morris’ devoted campaign manager Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a man he believes to be his friend. However, Meyers has caught the attention of the rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) and when Meyers agrees to meet him alone in a bar – in all innocence – everything starts to shift from underneath Meyers’ feet. Not even his free and easy relationship with young intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) is quite what it seems.
Meanwhile, Mike Morris, supported by his wife (the always excellent and frequently underused Jennifer Ehle) and their daughter, continues to woo the voters, using the clever words and arguments of Stephen Meyers.
I don’t want to give anything else away about the plot, as it winds its way through a maze of words, arguments, false promises and threats, but there are more than enough twists and turns to keep you focused on Stephen Meyers’ efforts to control his own destiny.
Unfortunately, for me, The Ides of March suffers from comparison with West Wing, a series that took political satire and drama to a level that may be impossible to conquer. There is also an air of predictability about the plot of The Ides of March. Twists it does have but the key elements of the film – the charismatic politician, the supporting and smiling wife, the dedicated campaign manager, the young intern, the sex, the triumphant galas, the packed campaign offices, the scandals, the TV interviews and the hotel rooms – all of this and much more are very familiar. Luckily, George Clooney has added sophistication to the mix, not to mention an outstanding talented cast, including regretfully small parts by actors such as Jennifer Ehle and Marisa Tomei. Hoffmann and Giamatti are scene stealers, successfully combining a curious mix of sincerity and performance.
Ryan Gosling is Flavour of the Year for sure and he has no trouble whatsoever with a role portraying a highly intelligent political wordsmith who is both honourable and a realist. I actually had the impression that it was all too easy for Gosling. Nevertheless, I would now see a film with Ryan Gosling in it even without knowing much about it. I’m not so sure I could say the same for George Clooney despite the polish he brings to his art.
The Ides of March provided a very enjoyable couple of hours. It doesn’t challenge too much but its style is extremely attractive, right down to its clever poster, and the acting on display is superb. I couldn’t help wondering though, whenever George Clooney was on the screen, if politics may lie in his future. I think he’d get the votes.