The Ides of March is a film about politics and power, focusing on those behind the scenes – the campaign managers and interns who are working on the primaries. My understanding of the primaries comes from movies, TV and NPR podcasts, and I believe that the way it works is that the race for President is essentially between two people – a Democrat and a Republican. The primaries are how they decide who those two people will be – the various candidates campaign and then a caucus of the people from that party vote, and eventually someone is picked. There’s way, way more to it than that – for example, this film is set in Ohio, and that is apparently open voting, which means both Democrats and Republicans (and I suppose everyone in between) votes in the primaries. Look, ok, I don’t really know. All I know is, there is a lot of money in it, and the candidate who gets the most votes from delegates then goes on to campaign in the race for President.
Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is second in charge to Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) on the primary campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Meyers is a believer – he plays clean, he is honest, and he believe that the liberal views of Morris can really make the world a better place. During the Ohio campaign, a series of events happen that rob Meyers of his naivety and leave him difficult choices.
About three-quarters of the way through this film, I was trying to figure out what Meyers would do next. I felt that things were hopeless for him, but I was unsure whether I even cared. I decided I did, and was then trying to work out what paths he had left open – what was his goal and how would he achieve it. Then I wondered about whether I was enjoying the film or not. During films, I don’t usually think this much – or at least, not consciously. If I am aware that these are my thought processes, is the film not engaging me? This is why I can’t decide if I liked it or not – because I was just so conscious of the script and trying to dissect it. Writing this now, I realise I did enjoy thinking this way during the film – especially because it wasn’t predictable.
My main criticism was that the character of Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) was very under developed. I didn’t believe the choices she made, or the manner in which she made them. For me to believe that Meyers would react in the way he did (I’m trying very hard not to put in spoilers) I needed more about Stearns. She just seemed like an unfulfilled character, and given her importance in the story, the film could have explored her more.
As a director, I think Clooney shows a particular penchant for the eyes. Perhaps it’s because his are just so gorgeous, or perhaps it’s because Gosling is able to convey a lot with a subtle lift of an eyebrow. There was an awful lot of eye and eyebrow acting in this film.
It’s got a strong cast with the usual wonderful performances from Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giatmatti and Marisa Tomei. Clooney himself was a much smaller part in the film. I used to think he was a terrible actor – gorgeous, but terrible. That’s changing – between this and The American (which I did not like, but Clooney’s performance was very strong), I think there may be more to him than a charming smile.
As far as films about power and politics are concerned, I would recommend Wag the Dog (1997) and Primary Colors (1998) first, but the Ides of March certainly captures the filth of politics and power.
The Ides of March was nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.