As the next presidential election approaches (And with various scandals already rocking amongst GOP candidates—or former GOP candidates), The Ides of March will offer a very relevant and interesting perspective into how American political campaigns are run. Much like Margin Call, Ides could be an up-and-coming awards contender with much relation to the current situations in the US. But compared to the previously mentioned film, the George Clooney directorial effort/starrer is much more intense and intriguing, and has a gloomy and mesmerizing single-perspective yet slightly jumbled story.
Ryan Gosling continues to steamroll as one of the most in-demand leading men of 2011 as the hero-turned-anti-hero in this film based on Beau Willimon‘s play Farragut North. Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, a junior campaign manager for Clooney’s Mike Morris, the governor of Pennsylvania and a Democratic presidential candidate. The film chronicles Governor Morris and his campaign staff as they work to win the Ohio primary versus Senator Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell) as well as earn the endorsement of North Carolina Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright). After a debate, Stephen is asked by Pullman’s campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) to meet with him secretly for a job offer, which lands Stephen in hot water with Morris’ senior campaign manager, Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), specifically when the story is leaked by New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei). As if that wasn’t troublesome enough, Stephen uncovers a secret from campaign intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), a secret which could jeopardize the entire campaign. All of these people and incidents cause Stephen to question his loyalties to the campaign, his colleagues, and himself, sharing with the audience a grim and felt viewpoint into how filthy politics can be.
Seeing almost exclusively through the eyes of Stephen should make it simple to go through the motions, yet at the same time, it’s a lot to take in and by the end, some ends feel untied. However, the ongoing suspense makes this narrative one that you’ll want to follow. There is much tension and even a slightly strong sense of terror throughout as the shocking events unravel, and it’s not even the explicitly violent kinds of tension and terror. And by going along with Stephen and tapping into his mind and experiences, it’s hard to feel for anyone else playing the game, with the exception of maybe one other character who is driven to the highest point of madness (Will not mention who to avoid spoiling the film). However, there’s a question of whether he’s a victim in the web of lies, or whether he’s assimilated into one of the villains. All of the ensemble is certainly great and well-chosen for this film, but Gosling’s portrayal of this complex leading character—from innocent and charismatic beginning to frightening and controlling end—is captivating and easily one of the film’s strongest points.
Furthermore, Clooney’s well-spoken manner and poised presence makes him an ideal candidate for the role of a presidential candidate and as the film’s director, he also helps bring authenticity to a fictional primary. The news, the debates, and the campaign office action is all brought on the big screen for an interesting and real experience, as if these guys actually were running for President. But the heart of the film is that intimate story of what is going on behind-the-scenes, specifically the journey that one goes through, thinking that he could overcome and only to fall.
The Ides of March isn’t a film about policies and Democrats versus Republicans, or even about Democrats versus Democrats—Moreso, it’s about the absence of honesty and trust within circles and how some people will sacrifice character and dignity to reach the top of the ladder. It happens in life, not just in politics. However, the world of political campaigning and the public presentations of candidates happens to be an exemplary way of demonstrating the diminishing of morals to achieve success, as Clooney, Gosling, cast, playwright Willimon, and screenwriter Grant Heslov (Along with Clooney) shows through this work. Surely, the film will provoke thought about what happens behind closed doors in any campaign, both the positive strategies and the dishonest and dirty cover-ups and push-downs.