It's a rule that has stood the test of time, from the days of Julius Caesar to the poetry of William Shakespeare: hubris is a bitch that will beat you, or stab you, dead. Confidence is important, but overconfidence - especially the assumption that things will always go your way because you're more virtuous than the next guy - will ultimately destroy you. In George Clooney's mesmerizing The Ides of March, people are but pawns, emotion and friendship unimportant in contrast to strategy and victory, pieces of flesh to be positioned and brushed aside for the sake of success. Or the twisted form of success idealized by politicians.
The Ides of March is a deftly directed and superbly acted political thriller set in the days leading up to the Ohio Democratic primary, where a charismatic game changer named Mike Morris (Clooney) is fighting for his chance to become the next president of the United States of America. Morris has won over young but top-of-his-field media manager Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), who runs a tight ship and is without question Morris' biggest admirer. Where campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) seems a game to be played and won, Stephen sees much more than that in Morris: he sees a better world.
Oh, reality! In politics there is no such thing as the incorruptible. After one small mistake, the slightest of poor choices made, Stephen's world comes crashing down around him. As he soon discovers, there are no friends in politics.
That last paragraph is purposely vague for two reasons: 1) I'm a marketing manager, so I'm prone to writing broad, sweeping statements, and 2) to discuss the specific elements of the film would ruin parts of it, sort of like the movie trailer does. Let's just say that when the metaphorical shit hits the fan, it really hits the fan. In political terms, of course.
The Ides of March is by no means perfect, but it is a strong film with all the makings for Oscar attention. The film is George Clooney's most polished directorial effort by far, a smooth, almost hypnotic creation that flows from one scene to the next with both the subtle context necessary for a political thriller and bold, orchestral energy that crackles just beneath the surface. While some of the theatrics are overkill, The Ides of March is a beautiful film to watch.
The acting is superb and screams Oscar nominations. Gosling, after sizzling in both Crazy, Stupid, Love and Drive earlier this year, amps it up yet another notch with his performance here. He once again plays the calm, cool and collected right man, but in The Ides of March you can literally see the emotional torment stirring within.
He's supported by a great, A-list cast. Hoffman is fabulous in what will be an overlooked role, but is worth watching purely for a scene-stealing speech where he verbally beats his enemy into submission. The same can be said for Paul Giamatti. Clooney is excellent, though like so many politician characters in these kinds of movies, he's there more for sound bites than anything else. Rachel Evan Wood also hammers home a character that at first seems like a simple love interest but turns into something much more complex and instrumental to the film's plot.
The movie is not without fault, however, though its flaws derive from the very nature of its subject matter. In politics, no one is perfect or incorruptible. This means that the film's protagonists become grayer as the story progresses, to the point where you're not sure who you want to succeed. In many ways, there is no winner. And in some ways, there are several.
This moral ambiguity dulls the impact of the climax, and yet it's this same ambiguity that makes the film so intriguing. The paradox is interesting and compelling, and Clooney should be applauded for not taking the easy route - though I'm not sure there was one. It feels wrong to fault the film for such an attribute, and yet the ending didn't quite do for me what the rest of the movie did. Then again, maybe The Ides of March killed my hubris, my beliefs, that the best man always wins without compromising his values.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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