Movie Review by Joan Ellis
In our present state of political polarization, all comers can be forgiven for looking for something in The Ides of March that isn’t there. Who among us isn’t looking for a fix? After two years of watching governmental paralysis, we will now waste another year listening to Democrats and Republicans continue their fight in the political sandbox. All the while, leaders of both parties will call on God to bless America while proclaiming the importance of the Constitution. But we know by now that campaign promises die after election day.
What does this have to do with the movie? A lot. After a prolonged period of embarrassing domestic scandals, feet of clay, and empty speeches, our electorate is angry. The movie offers us more of the same. Though acted and filmed with great skill, it pulls us into the tawdry realm of personal ambition and leaves us there to rot for the duration.
In an interesting move, director George Clooney focuses not so much on the character he plays – Governor Mike Morris who is running in the Ohio primary – but on his campaign staff. This is a story of how each of the candidate’s men is driven by his own needs and ambitions. It is a tale of backstabbing and intra-staff jealousies, of the erosion and crumbling of idealism. This is nasty stuff.
Stephen Meyers, top aide to Morris, is a sharp, capable admirer of his candidate, but when something happens to tarnish his commitment, Stephen’s principles plummet into collapse. The communications director who once watched his boss devotedly from the sidelines, turns vengeful. Ryan Gosling is convincing as the idealist whose values aren’t strong enough to survive disillusionment. If the scandal itself seems stale, it’s because we have already been forced to watch its first run on real life TV news.
Any movie with Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a guarantee of quality, and George Clooney has a way of assembling the best. As staff chiefs for the opposing candidates, these two are the realists, the experienced pros who know far better than to let vendettas derail the overriding goal of electing their candidates. Both insist on only one thing: unquestioning loyalty. As the candidate, George Clooney creates a polished cipher who says all the right things but, as you may have guessed, it’s that feet-of-clay thing again.
I never thought a movie could be too timely, but in focusing on the current poverty of ideas and principle, The Ides of March carries no seed of hope. The problem lies not so much with George Clooney’s well crafted movie as with our collective dreams. We are Americans looking, as Americans do, for heroes in a time that has none. George Clooney’s unwelcome gift to us is a cynical reminder that the body politic is shot through with self-absorption, personal ambition, and graft. The worst of it is that corruption and evil are rarely punished. Timely, yes indeed.