Politics are Hell
“The Ides of March”
By: The Film Informant
Sony Pictures, the studio behind George Clooney’s searing new political drama, “The Ides of March,” originally wanted to title the film after the play from which it was adapted, “Farragut North.” But in the end Clooney made a bolder choice with a title that references the most infamous political assassination in history, of Julius Caesar. The title isn’t all Cloony ratchets-up in his new film, which depicts the high-stakes poker of backroom politics, taking place in the dark recesses on the other side of the flag.
Clooney, who also acts in the film as presidential candidate, Governor Mike Morris, has a fine touch as director (with four features under his belt, including the 2005 Oscar-nominated, “Good Night and Good Luck,” it seems he can’t miss). But said and done, this is Ryan Gosling’s movie. Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, the Governor’s press secretary. In the last frantic days before a heavily contested Ohio presidential primary, Meyers gets wrapped up in a political scandal involving a young intern (Evan Rachel Wood) that threatens to upend his candidate’s shot at the White House.
As the cards fall and power shifts from one campaign to the other, Gosling’s emotional life subtly resonates in his tractable face. The pride of victory glistens in his eyes, wrenching anxiety works at his jaw, and desperate fear burns under his welling grimace.
The star is backed up by one of the best casts of the year. Most notably, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman are at once heartfelt and cut-throat political game heads. They swindle and backstab with an undercurrent of pity; good men who are victim to the necessary evils of their profession. In a telling scene, Giamatti talks about his job like it’s veritable hell on earth, and urges Gosling to “get out now, while you still can.”
Politics are indeed hell in “The Ides of March,” a Faustian tale about a man who’s forced to sell his soul to stay in the game. At one point Meyer, obviously perturbed to ride on the campaign jet, becomes nervous about some mid-flight turbulence. To appease his anxieties he reassures the Governor, and himself, by suggesting that “nothing bad happens when you’re doing the right thing.” The philosophy is Meyer’s heroic flaw, because in the hellish, inverted world of “The Ides of March,” what you do matters far less than what you don’t do.