Review: The Ides of March
PLOT: Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is a presidential hopeful in the midst of the Democratic Primary in Ohio. His top flak, a media maestro named Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is a young and ambitious idealist- in constant conflict with Morris' seen-it-all campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman). When Myers makes the mistake of meeting the campaign manager (Paul Giamatti) of the rival candidate for an innocent drink, he sets in motion is a series of events that could derail Morris' campaign. He also gets involved with a beautiful, twenty-year-old intern (Evan Rachel Wood) who may have a deeper connection with Morris' campaign than he could have imagined.
REVIEW: At this point, George Clooney seems to be Hollywood's official film festival ambassador, with him coming back to TIFF (and Telluride, and Venice) year after year with top quality movies that usually walk away with a ton of Oscar buzz and prestige. THE IDES OF MARCH is one of two movies Clooney has at the fest (the other being Alexander Payne's THE DESCENDANTS), although this time, Clooney not only stars, but produced and directed as well.
As a director, Clooney is 50/50 for me. CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND was a film I half loved, and half despised, GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK is one I unabashedly loved, while I loathed LEATHERHEADS. THE IDES OF MARCH is right up Clooney's alley, with it being a sharply political tale that shines the spotlight on dirty campaign politics, which tend to infiltrate even the most well-meaning campaigns.
Many have said that Clooney's character is based on Howard Dean, but after watching the movie, John Edwards is a more obvious inspiration. On paper, Morris is the guy you'd want running your country. He's progressive, but in a realistic, feasible way, and isn't bound by religion or any perceived moral superiority. But, he is flawed, as Gosling's character comes to realize as the film goes on.
In truth, THE IDES OF MARCH is Gosling's film through and through, as it's less about the Clooney character and his campaign, than Gosling's growing moral degradation, and transformation into the kind of repulsive sleazebag campaign manager, as portrayed by Paul Giamatti (in a tour-DE-force performance).
Sure enough, THE IDES OF MARCH is a well-constructed, thought provoking drama, although I couldn't help but feel it was missing a certain something that kept me from fully enjoying it, as I did with GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK. To a man (and woman) the cast is perfect, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a change of pace, playing the most obviously moral character, and Evan Rachel Wood having a meaty role as the young woman who initially seems like a vixen, but eventually proves to be more complicated.
But curiously, I felt that THE IDES OF MARCH was keeping me, as the viewer, at arm's length- which is the same criticism I had for frequent Clooney collaborator Steven Soderbergh's latest, CONTAGION. Maybe, in making a film about a subject that obviously fascinates him, Clooney forgot to give audiences a character they could identify with, or latch on to- as everyone, to a degree, proves themselves to be either a fraud or worse.
However, THE IDES OF MARCH is still what I'd call a “good movie”, even if it lacks the heart, or rawness that I think is needed to push it to the next level. But, as an interesting time capsule representing dirty campaign politics in our day and age, THE IDES OF MARCH is very successful indeed.