The Ides of March (2011)
News flash: politics sucks.
The Ides of March is about a young, accomplished, wide-eyed political aide for a fictional front-running Democratic Presidential candidate. After working on countless campaigns for politicians who talked the talk without walking the walk, the aide thinks he’s finally found the guy he’s been waiting for, someone who can actually make a change in the country without compromising his principles. In the days leading up to the Ohio primary which could single-handedly determine who takes The White House, the aide finds his own principles compromised when a Republican aide drags him into the darker side of politics. The deeper he gets and the more he tries to stick to his convictions, the more he realizes that he’s in over his head and that the candidate he idolizes might not be the poster boy he originally thought.
Now, I’ve never worked on a political campaign, nor have I ever run for office (despite what you may have heard). I vote, I like to keep abreast of what’s going on and who’s in the race, but when someone around the camp fire shifts the talking point to politics, I prefer not to. Part of it is that you never know what kind of company you’re in, part of it is that I tend to feel like an uninformed ass at the end of those conversations, but most of it is that politics are just ugly.
The general stigma I have against so many candidates and campaigns is that it’s one big popularity contest to see who’s gonna tell the public what they want to hear and who’s the best at reading a teleprompter. Yes, it’s extremely important to vote, but it’s still an endlessly depressing situation, one that makes me wonder how FDR would have fared in today’s political system and why upstanding individuals like himself have become such a rarity over the years? The good news is that every once in a while you’ll get people like New Jersey’s Corey Booker and Chris Christie to mix things up with some actual honesty and the balls to stand up for their policies instead of going with the norm by pussyfooting around the bullshit. Not to ramble and not that I agree with all their policies per se, but it’s increasingly rare to find someone in a public office who actually embodies the notion of “what you see is what you get.
The bad news is that there’s still only so much you can know about a candidate’s true colors from what you see on TV and read in the paper. Remember John Edwards, the guy who almost became Vice President? That’s what The Ides of March is about, and it’s as true as it is depressing. Writer/director/handsome devil George Clooney isn’t naming names or taking shots at any candidate or campaign in particular, but he doesn’t really have to since history tends to repeat itself in these matters for Democrats and Republicans alike. What Clooney’s doing is taking the best of both parties, putting them on a pedestal, and then rolling back the curtain on all the high-profile, career-ruining scandals that got swept under the rug because it’s just that easy. As you can imagine, he’s got a whole lot of source material at his disposal and it makes for some awfully cheery stuff.
Going off that premise, the most interesting thing about Clooney’s script is in fact the character he’s playing, Governor Mike Morris. He’s the ideal candidate, someone the audience can get behind just as much as Gosling’s character does, the guy we all wish was actually on the ballot when we pull the lever come November 2012. While he ultimately comes to represent something else altogether, the thing I liked most about this character and what he has to say doesn’t trace back to the criticisms of our cutthroat political system, but rather the common sense, “Why aren’t we already doing this?” proposals that he brings to the table. It’s not only smart in the positive implications it would have in the world we live in, but it also sheds an even greater light on the empty promises and sweet nothings that we’re so used to being fed. I could start rattling them off here, but I can’t sell ’em like Morris.
From his pros to his cons, you can see a slew of different real-life Presidents in Morris, and that’s important for the story this movie’s trying to tell. Although, the double-edged sword of Morris is that he’s essentially the man behind the curtain who takes a backseat to Gosling’s character, Stephen Meyers. I get why Clooney went down that route as a way to make Morris this untouchable, larger-than-life figure that he is, but Stephen Meyers along with his friends and foes just aren’t as interesting. Not to say that they’re uninteresting, but Morris is more about the message whereas Meyers is more about the drama. All the same, it’s a pretty inventive script in regards to the directions it takes the plot in. You can probably figure out the direction things go in as far as Gosling and Clooney’s relationship is concerned, but as far as all the other backstabbing, head games, and dream-killing that goes down, that was full of surprises and went quite a long way.
You know, there isn’t much I didn’t like about this movie, there just wasn’t much that I loved either, and the main thing that kept this from snagging an 8 was unfortunately its cast. On any other day, there’d be nothing to complain about with a cast like this. Gosling? Clooney? Giamatti? Hoffman? These are some intense guys, guys who know how to command a scene and intimidate the the piss out of whoever’s in earshot. These are guys who don’t need to raise their voices to get the point across, a slow exhale with a mean stare will do just fine, but apparently that wasn’t in the memo this time around. It’s not that they’re all yelling at each other from square one, it’s just that they all have at least one moment where they do just that and it felt unnecessary each time. It’s a pretty subjective gripe and I’d be losing my shit too if I were in Gosling’s shoes, but the dialogue just felt somewhat contrived as a result and it seems like a rookie tactic for such an Oscar-friendly crew that knows a thing or two about playing it subtle.
After seeing it for myself, I asked one of my good friends who works on a political campaign what he thought of the movie. I was secretly hoping for a response that would give me some sliver of hope, some affirmation that Clooney’s got his head up his ass, but instead he said, “Yeah, it’s pretty dead-on.” The Ides of March didn’t necessarily teach me anything about the world of politics that I didn’t already know, but it is effective in turning the worst parts of politics and using them as fuel for a very true-to-life thriller. I think this movie would have been that much more effective as a documentary from the perspective of an aide who worked on the trail with the likes of John Edwards or David Duke, but as the drama it is, it’s pretty darn astute and pretty darn crazy.
Poor old FDR must be rolling in his grave.