When I finished watching The Ides of March I pretty much wanted to curl myself up into a ball, not because the movie–co-produced, co-written, starring, and directed by known political activist and movie star George Clooney–presented new, dark truths about the human existence or politics. Rather, it was how the themes were presented. The Ides of March is a complex political thriller following Stephen (Ryan Gosling), a young, bright eyed political idealist who is working on the campaign of presidential candidate and front runner of the Democratic Primary, Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney).
The film opens with Stephen at the podium before a debate is to take place in Ohio. “I am not a Christian. I am not an Atheist. I’m not Jewish. I’m not Muslim. My religion, what I believe in is called the Constitution of the United States.” Ryan Gosling says these lines with conviction, signifying his character’s belief not so much in the statement but, as we find out later, in Governor Mike Morris. This devotion to the man ultimately brings Stephen’s downfall after he makes the choice to meet with the campaign manager of the opposing campaign Tom Duffy, cynically played by Paul Giamatti. This meeting causes campaign manager Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Stephen’s boss and mentor, to start to question his loyalty after Stephen chooses to withhold information about the meeting until things seem too late. The plot thickens as Stephen has a fling with an intern played by Evan Rachel Wood.
While the dialogue is sharp and the pacing is taut, it is the subplot of Stephen’s affair with Molly the intern where problems arise. Evan Rachel Wood’s character feels more like a plot device than a character or a person despite Wood’s valiant performance. The events surrounding the subplot are generic and unbelievable. This is a bit disappointing because these events could actually happen, but actions and plot points blow up way too fast for things to be completely realistic. In a film that supposedly takes place in the real world, this is a problem.
Despite the glaring flaw, The Ides of March is still effective. Writers Clooney, Grant Haslov, and Beau Willimon are not too concerned with the realism in the plot as they are with the overall theme. It is the dedication with the theme, which shows a genuine belief in the subject matter, along with the existential presentation, well framed images, slick pacing, and great performances from a majority of the cast that gives the movie its power. I just wish the direction would have been a bit more stylish as opposed to the gritty realism. Maybe then the subplot would make a better fit.
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