The Ides of March

There’s something captivating about seeing smart people in the movies. Perhaps it’s because movie characters are often less intelligent than one would hope, or maybe even because in reality it seems that there aren’t any smart people left. Regardless, watching well-spoken, thoughtful individuals in every role in a feature film is a good way to endear your product to someone like me. I’ll watch people like this in a movie do little more than talk, which is exactly what happens in The Ides of March.

The film is a political drama about the dealings and double-crosses that can happen during a political race. Our star is Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a junior campaign manager working for Mike Morris (George Clooney, who also directed the picture), who is a Governor and Democratic presidential candidate. Meyers’ job is to (1) do whatever it takes to get Morris elected and (2) do whatever his senior manager, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hofman) tells him to do. Probably in that order, although obviously Zara doesn’t see it that way.

I think the most surprising thing about The Ides of March, adapted from a play titled Farragut North written by Beau Willimon, is that nothing that happens in it is surprising. I don’t mean that in a narrative sense — there are twists and turns and a couple of good shocks to the system when it comes to characters, motivations and reveals — but in the sense that you can believe all of the things that happen over the film’s duration could conceivably happen in real life.

Isn’t that kind of sick? The Ides of March isn’t a documentary and never tries to make us believe that it is and yet it feels incredibly believable. That politicians and their assistants could be so cruel to each other shouldn’t be something we just accept, and yet there’s little trouble believing everything that happens in the movie. Someone hurts someone else, or ruins a career, etc., and it’s acceptable at face value, I suppose, because “that’s how it is.” How terrible.

I wouldn’t say The Ides of March is a criticism of politics or of the American political system. Maybe it is. This type of story has been seen before, although maybe not in this setting. Politics are the setting, but the film is about the lust for power and the methods people use in order to achieve it. Innocence being corrupted by the system might be another them to look at. Meyers certainly starts out the film a lot more doe-eyed than he is when it’s over. One character even dies. People have affairs, information is leaked, friends betray others to get ahead. And the pure certainly don’t always win.

Like I said at the beginning: I can watch smart people talk about pretty much anything for the course of an entire film. You don’t get enough intelligent conversations in day-to-day life. Each of the characters in this film is far smarter than the average Schmoe you meet on the street. They talk in a way you don’t get to hear, they always have hidden cards and agendas, and they all think they’re the smartest guy or gal in the room. That’s fascinating.

With smart people comes smart dialogue, and listening to The Ides of March is good fun. Someone should transfer it to an audio CD so you can listen to it on the bus or in the car. The film has been written by Clooney, Willimon, and Grant Heslov, and they’ve crafted a very strong screenplay. The words flow from the actors, the plot moves at a very good clip, the twists come rapidly enough, and everything makes logical sense. None of the fat has been left on this movie, which is another thing to appreciate about it.

Democrats and Republicans will both probably want to know to which side The Ides of March Leans. Does it lean to one side? Everyone is depicted as evil. Sure, most of the characters are Democrats, but this is a film that doesn’t have much love for any part of politics. It’s not “Liberal propaganda,” nor does it advocate from conservative values. In fact, the issues barely get brought up. The people and their quest for power is more on the film’s mind.

A fantastic cast of actors has been assembled for The Ides of March. In leading roles, Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, and Philip Seymour Hoffman are all great. The latter two are veterans when it comes to these characters, but Gosling’s natural charisma makes him a great choice for the lead. Paul Giamatti turns up for a few scenes as a rival campaign manager who is in a constant feud with Morris’ campaign, Evan Rachel wood is a campaign intern and a love interest for Gosling’s Meyers, and Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright have about two scenes each as a reporter and an undecided Senator, respectively.

To call The Ides of March a “very good” movie is not really doing it justice. I can’t really think of any negatives when it comes to watching it. The only people I can see being turned off it are people who hate hearing about politics, but the film plays to those kinds of people anyway given its criticism of the system. This is a smart movie with an intelligent screenplay, precise editing, great acting and with a purposefully provided point. Give it a watch.

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