Alluding to William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” George Clooney’s well-crafted new drama chronicles the struggle between personal integrity and political ambition.
“The Ides of March” follows Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), a young and passionate junior campaign manager for charismatic presidential hopeful Mike Morris (Clooney). Myers’ skill and success in helping publicize Morris catches the eye of campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who approaches Myers about assisting Morris’ opponent. While Myers originally declines, his meeting with Duffy and the consequences of Morris’ affair with an intern threatens the campaign and the careers of everyone involved with it.
The film marks a pessimistic shift from Clooney’s 2005 historical drama “Good Night, and Good Luck,” in which he also dealt with the clash between political idealism and reality. That film ended with journalistic and personal integrity overcoming propaganda and political corruption in the ’50s. “The Ides of March” suggests a modern political landscape in which apolitical and jaded journalists like Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) surmise that all political ideals are carefully constructed tools for achieving personal power. The film shows a world in which political campaigners — even within the same party — are locked in a conflict often more intense than the politicians they represent.
The script reunites Clooney with Grant Heslov, who co-wrote “Good Night, and Good Luck.” With the assistance of additional co-writer Beau Willimon, the film overcomes the pacing problems that have plagued some of the director’s previous work. The plot runs smoothly, with Stephen
Mirrione’s editing punctuating important dramatic beats without seeming overdone or exploitative.
While Gosling is convincing in his role, his character’s transformation throughout the film so jarring and sudden it is difficult to tell if the drastic change is the result of a poor acting or if the director intends it. But Gosling offers a suitable counterpoint to the veteran Clooney, and the pair’s on-screen chemistry makes their scripted relationship more realistic and compelling.
Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography uses the typical scenery of political campaigns — giant flags on a debate stage, televisions constantly playing MSNBC and campaign
flyers — to comment on the artificiality of the political landscape. Campaign posters, which echo the work of graphic designer Shepard Fairey in the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign, elevate Morris to the status of pioneering leader. This political material fills the offices of interns and campaigners, and creates a subtle but dark commentary on the hundreds of unseen individuals that manipulate the way audiences vote.
With a stellar cast and inspired script, the movie provides audiences with compelling concepts that, in a time of increasing political disillusionment, also hit incredibly close to home.
“The Ides of March” was directed by George Clooney and written by Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon and Clooney.
3.5 stars out of 4