With the United States facing economic and political uncertainty and a presidential election just on the horizon, The Ides of March, directed by and starring George Clooney, comes to theaters at a very appropriate time. While some movies use the interest in a current event as a crutch, The Ides of March instead uses this topical interest to speak about very long-term and universal issues.
Based on the play Farragut North, which is in turn loosely based on the 2004 Democratic Primary Campaign of Howard Dean, The Ides of March revolves around Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) and his campaign manager Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling). The movie is set in Ohio as Morris attempts to win the Democratic Primary against Senator Pullman. Morris begins as a politician probably too idealistic to win a presidential election and Pullman serves as his foil, as his campaign is willing make promises and play dirty to win. Stephen, the main character, is young, highly skilled, and at the beginning, truly believes he can make a difference for the country.
Throughout the movie, the characters grapple with the tension between upholding their ideals, and the burdens and responsibilities of reality. The characters, especially Stephen, must decide if sacrificing their principles by partaking in underhanded political tactics is worth winning the election for their candidate. The movie very admirably humanizes politicians and shows how the stakes and corruption in politics changes even the most compassionate and honorable people. The movie puts democracy front and center and gives viewers a good close-up look of the system—flaws and all—and inspires them to think about it. The movie shows the promise and potential for democracy, but also shows how it is messy, complicated, and requires close attention from its citizens.
It may sound like the movie is a bunch of old people talking, but given the subject matter, it is actually very well paced. The movie focuses on a relatively small cast of interesting and believable characters. Morris probably stands out the most, with his sharp wit and interesting stances on political issues. Personally, I was ready to vote for him come November. Stephen is devilishly charming and having the most screen time, feels the most complete and believable. The plot, while somewhat heavy, is padded by good humor, punchy dialogue, and relatable moments between characters. These details keep things moving and enjoyable, while never distracting from the movie’s political commentary.
While The Ides of March is not necessarily the most creative or artistic movie, it doesn’t feel like it came from any of the standard Hollywood cookie-cutters. Everything about it is believable which makes its cynicism about politics feel more important. However, it does not stand on its political commentary alone. The strong cast of characters, excellent writing, and enjoyable plot makes the movie appealing to a mainstream audience.
The verdict: The Ides of March is entertaining, socially relevant, and I recommend it to everybody.