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The Ides of March - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Ides of March
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

It's true that there's really nothing revelatory in The Ides of March. Most audiences already know that it's impossible to get ahead in politics unless you play dirty, even if they don't know precisely the way the dirt gets flung -- and this movie practically wallows in it, if you look deep enough. Much like real-world politics, things can look relatively innocuous if you don't look past the surface of things, and George Clooney, working as director here, is very systematic in revealing the mechanization of that world.

It may not be telling us anything new, but this movie does make us face a reality that most of us willfully ignore. This is a mirror, shining the truth of American politics to American audiences. It's not going to change the world of politics any more than it's going to change the movie industry, mostly because it has the potential to be a modest success at best. Clooney does make politics entertaining, but that's not exactly the same as making it fun. And nearly every character here becomes morally compromised in some way, and never is it a surprise.

It all revolves around a junior campaign manager, played by Ryan Gosling in the third of his three major movie releases this year, all of them quite different from each other. Gosling is kind of the It Boy that George Clooney once was, and he's well on track to having a similarly accomplished career. Here, he's an idealist, working for a governor (Clooney) who is running for president in an Ohio primary that everyone understands will clinch the Democratic nomination. The dueling senior campaign managers on either side are impeccably cast as Philip Seymour Hoffman, as a man willing to play the game but with integrity; and Paul Giamatti, as a man willing to play the game without integrity.

It was indeed wise on Clooney's part to make this all about Democrats, thereby preventing themselves from being perceived as being yet more liberal Hollywood "elite" painting Republicans as the enemy. If The Ides of March reflects any genuine truth of American politics, it's that politics is pretty disgusting regardless of the party. There are always demons if you look hard enough -- and if there aren't, you just invent one! Republicans freely do this to each other during primary races, and so do Democrats. Sometimes people working on the same campaign do it to each other.

As the junior campaign manager says, you can lie and cheat and steal and go to war and ruin the economy, but you can't fuck the intern. "They'll get you for that." This isn't exactly a spoiler; it's more like the crux of the matter. Certain elements of the events in this film bring Anthony Wiener to mind -- also a Democrat, incidentally -- although on a far smaller scale in terms of the deed itself. But the implications are the same.

And so enters said intern, played by Evan Rachel Wood with a deceptive confidence that belies her naivete. If I had any complaint about the use of this character, it's that she gets treated unfairly not just by the other characters but by the script writers themselves. We see Gosling say to her, "You fucked up," and she rightly replies, "We both fucked up." But there is never any acknowledgement of the latter fact, and although I got the sense that I was supposed to start losing faith in his idealism later on, I stopped liking him right there. I mean, Christ, even here, in this context, we're subjected to the argument that it's only the woman's responsibility to make sure the man uses a condom?

In any event, in this world, there are demons that are real, and demons that are invented, and it's all a meticulous game played by expert players -- except maybe for the intern, who kind of tries playing the game but proves to be far from an expert. It could be said that The Ides of March is tailor-made for the politically cynical -- which was why Clooney opted not to make this earlier, even though he was ready earlier, because of the prevailing optimism of Obama's election. Well, in spite of no genuine skeletons being found in his closet, those days are clearly over. Things always come back to politics as usual.

And from that vantage point, this movie is clearly not for everyone. It is well written, competently directed, and skillfully acted -- but it also makes it impossible to live in ignorant bliss. This may not be world-changing but it's still provocative, and if you like to be intellectually stimulated at the same time you're entertained, then this is the movie for you. But given that it was based on a play (by Beau Willimon, who co-wrote the screenplay, as did Clooney himself), it also spends most of its time with people inside rooms sitting and talking to each other. There's no action to speak of -- only the violence of backstabbing with words. And that is what provides the more than adequate drama. It's hard to like most of the characters, but it's also hard to look away -- and that is the hallmark of a story that transcends the otherwise relevant question of what the point is of telling it, simply because it's told so well.

Ryan Gosling gets dirty on the campaign trail in THE IDES OF MARCH.

Overall: B+
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