“The Ides of March” is a well crafted political thriller (4/5)

I have very little faith in politics. I understand the significance of such a field, but the talking heads that spew their platforms and kiss babies makes me feel uneasy. Sure, some of these politicians have the oral capacity to move an entire crowd, but is what they’re saying valid and reliable? For me, it’s tough to see where the politician begins and where his or her entourage of influence ends. Each candidate, whether they’re campaigning for a minor state role or to be leader of the free world, has a campaign manager that is the puppet master. In some respects, they’re a glorified marketing agent. They take their hopeful candidate, prop them up in a manner that is appeasing to the masses, and sell a hollow perception. Representing this form of political marketing is Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a Junior Campaign Manager in The Ides of March. Stephen, with his good looks and striking attire, is a marketing virtuoso who finds himself behind Mike Morris (George Clooney), a democratic presidential candidate. Stephen knows exactly how to prompt Morris, but most of all; he knows how to exploit the audience. With his finger on the pulse of the people, Stephen preps Morris for a win in the Ohio primary and a surefire win for the democratic presidential nomination.

The talent that resides in Stephen is recognized by Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the campaign manager for the opposition to Morris’ democratic bid. Feeling a loss on the horizon and with Stephen’s boss, Paul Mara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), on a trip to gain the support of North Carolina Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), Duffy begins to meddle with his opposition. Stephen is baited with a nugget of information that capitalizes on his desire to be in the White House and soon, a string of events begin to unwind at a rapid rate, exposing the character’s good vibrations to be faux ideals. From infidelity to the leaking of information at an excessive rate, The Ides of March swiftly transforms into a twisty political tale that features few redeemable characters and a plethora of characters that would make Machiavelli proud. As you can imagine, the plot becomes quite convoluted as various characters come into focus and shift the film’s narrative landscape. Aside from the mass amount of characters, the plot is hard to detail simply because there are an assortment of power plays that should be experienced within the film’s brisk pace, and not in a plot description. 

There is but one major issue I have in regards to the film’s quick descent into the political abyss: everything stems from a few flippant decisions from Stephen, a man who is constantly pegged as being ahead of the curve. I don’t entirely believe he’s the kind of guy to make the decisions he makes, but Clooney, who also doubles as screenwriter and director, keeps the film’s momentum moving forward by surrounding his material with a great ensemble of actors who make the overly dramatic feel palpable. As expected, Gosling is tremendous as his charisma and assertive posture assures that Stephen’s dominance in the political arena rings true. The man who Gosling backslides for is played by the stoic Clooney. When Clooney’s Morris finds himself in front of a crowd or a camera, he possesses an uncanny amount of likeability and candor that makes his “by the rule” candidate feel like a game changer.  Unfortunately, he’s a wolf in sheep skin, and when he needs to get rough, Clooney gives Morris an edge that would surely aim for the jugular.

As for the rest of the cast, well, you can see the names above and know that they nail their parts. One name that I left off that list is Evan Rachel Wood, a love interest of sorts for Stephen that plays a significant role in the downfall of many and the rise of few. Needless to say, her performance nets us our only redeemable character, a character that viciously gets her earnestness destroyed amidst the political machine. Despite the destruction of a flawed, relatable character, the bad behavior by all the pawns is entertaining. Each player has a dagger of information in hand, and they aren’t afraid to stab a confidant in the back to gain a competitive advantage. Perhaps the film’s biggest joke is that none of the characters are surprised when they’re betrayed. As a matter of fact, they expect it to happen. It’d be like Julius Caesar congratulating Brutus and his fellow assassins on a job well done. Mind you, the film’s blitz of twists and betrayals isn’t entirely reflective of the political races we have seen in the past, but they represent the opportunities that can grow from a battle for power.


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