Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, a young ambitious campaign press spokesman for the Democratic candidate Governor Morris (George Clooney). The film is set in Ohio in the days leading up to the US presidential primary. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the older and wiser campaign manager Paul Zara who sees how idealistic Myers is. Morris’ opponent is Pullman, someone we barely see in the film, the focus being on Pullman’s main guy Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). We see the politics that goes on from behind closed doors as the essential cogs in the political machine do what they do best. As the primary looms Myers begins to realise that perhaps there is more going on beyond the surface than at first appears and in the process has to decide how loyal he really is.
This is essentially a morality tale and any misgivings I had about the political content evaporated as I realised Clooney has made this accessible and thrilling. The film is adapted from the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, the screenplay written by Clooney along with Grant Heslov. Clooney directs for the fourth time, his direction confident but not yet masterful. The performances throughout are extremely strong with the smaller roles being just as strong and memorable. Giamatti and Hoffman are brilliant as the opposing campaign managers who are actually two sides of the same coin and Marisa Tomei is great as Ida Horowicz, a cunning Times reporter who ‘befriends’ Myers, although it would have been nice to have seen a little more of her. Clooney is perfect as the charming politician and completely believable while man of the moment Gosling confirms his talent and is wonderful as the up and coming representative ensuring he is likable and carefully portrays the tough decisions the character has to make. Evan Rachel Wood is also good as the young intern who gets too involved in things, it is refreshing to see Wood in a recent role where she is likeable and vulnerable.
The Ides of March refers to the date the 15th of March when Julius Caesar was assassinated as well as in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar where Caesar is warned “beware the ides of March” shortly before his death. So the title itself sums up the backstabbing that the film is about. Interestingly, Leonardo DiCaprio was originally supposed to play Myers but dropped out and stayed on as executive producer instead. This information made me realise just how good Gosling is in the role as I think someone like DiCaprio would not have brought enough believable naivety to the role.
George Clooney spoke at the press conference after the screening of the film and said that it “reflects things that are pretty timeless, not necessarily government”, which demonstrates that although the story is heavily embedded in politics it is essentially about morals and loyalty, a universal story that can be interpreted as the audiences desires. Clooney also spoke of how he enjoys the quiet moments in films and one particular scene where Morris’ phone rings and he looks and sees who is calling is brilliantly observed with just the ringing of the phone and Morris’ facial expression depicting everything, it is a memorable moment. On his character Philip Seymour Hoffman also spoke of how as an actor “every time you play a part you get to demystify what it is like to be a human being” and this really sums up the heart of the film, if it betters yourself and harms someone else, is it worth it?
There are certainly interesting themes and investigations within The Ides of March executed by some incredible actors playing morally ambiguous characters. The fascinating thing about the film is there are no heroes or villains, just the integrity or lack of that these characters have. Whilst the film doesn’t really have anything dramatically new to offer, it is still a thrilling political drama with strong performances and a clever marketing campaign that would make the characters proud, the poster smartly merging Gosling’s face with Clooney’s face that adorns the front cover of Time magazine. Clooney makes politics thrilling and this is a solid Hollywood film that will entertain for the duration.
Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood
Runtime: 98 mins