By Don Simpson | October 7, 2011
Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella
A wise man — a Shakespearean soothsayer, no less — once warned “beware the ides of March” and writer-director George Clooney co-opts this infamous quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar presumably to emphasize [or warn us of] the overtly-dramatized events of his film. Clooney could have retained the title of Beau Willimon’s source play, Farragut North, but what fun would that have been?
Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a 30-year old political campaign strategist, has swallowed the proverbial purple Kool Aid of “change” being served up by a progressively-minded idealist whose seemingly uncompromised platform makes President Obama look like a centrist. The mythical Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is nothing short of a liberal’s wet dream candidate for the United States presidency. He is staunchly pro-choice, pro-same sex marriage and anti-capital punishment; he wants the United States to be completely weened from oil dependency within 10 years, not only to save the environment and jump-start the national economy, but to inflict more damage to foreign terrorists than any military action could possibly wield; he advocates for mandatory national service for high school graduates, which he offsets with free college tuition and healthcare for all; he even refuses to commit to a religious ideology (his religion: the blessed Constitution of the United States); and the state he currently governs boasts a balanced budget! Hey, Stephen! Don’t Bogart the Kool Aid! I wanna chug some too!
The other players [and pawns] of this Shakespearean drama include: Governor Morris’ campaign manager, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman); a seductive young intern, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood); Governor Morris’ opponent, Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell); Senator Pullman’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti); and New York Times reporter, Ida (Marisa Tomei).
Set in a fictional and unspecified time period in which the United States finds itself in a situation somewhat similar to the 2008 presidential campaign (and the campaign poster for Governor Morris bears a remarkable resemblance to the Barak Obama Hope poster designed by Shepard Fairey), The Ides of March does not discuss the politics of whoever the sitting president is; and besides a fleeting mention of an attempt by Republicans to influence the polls in key primary elections in order to get the weaker Democrat candidate nominated, the G.O.P. is rarely mentioned. Heck, even Senator Pullman warrants less than a minute or two of screen time.
Other than some stump speeches by Governor Morris, The Ides of March seems almost apolitical. Also, in choosing to place the narrative during a fictional time period, Clooney drains the story of any political oomph that it might have otherwise possessed. The Ides of March may be a strong (though incredibly traditional) political thriller with an unfathomably talented pool of thespians, but the film is rendered inconsequential and pointless. The only truly cutting political soliloquy is when Governor Morris addresses a question regarding whether he would still oppose the death penalty even if his own wife were murdered (a clever reference to a similar question posed to Michael Dukakis by moderator Bernard Shaw during the October 13, 1988 Presidential debate).
The Ides of March reinforces the belief that politics is nothing more than a dirty game of chess (“get down in the mud with the fucking elephants!”), with players and pawns doing dizzying Dosados as the relentless manipulation and backstabbing causes roles to change in a near-endless series of contrived plot twists that would cause even Shakespeare himself to blush with embarrassment. Compromises are necessary — so are sex scandals — and that just means that it is impossible for anyone in politics to remain ethically pure. It all boils down to Clooney’s two recommendations for those of you who are interested in entering politics: Beware the ides of March and do not fuck the interns.