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Ides of March reveals little about politics

Courtney Cox | Tuesday, October 25, 2011

“Ides of March,” a political thriller both starring and directed by George Clooney, seemed to say nothing original about the American political system, but rather embraced the conventional wisdom that all politicians are power hungry sell-outs.

The film followed junior campaign advisor Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) through the presidential primary campaign of Governor Mike Morris (Clooney).

Meyers was a slick, talented and fresh face on the political scene. It’s assumed that he knew what he was doing in terms of organizing a campaign, but the audience never really gets to see his strategizing in action.

This type of omission was exactly what made the film a relatively shallow representation of politics with a very thinly veiled message. It was much less about politics than it was about human error.

Morris was the type of Democratic candidate who was so extreme as to be polarizing, but in the film it’s never truly acknowledged.

Very briefly, Morris talked about how he was raised Catholic and now does not believe in the Catholic Church, but rather in the Constitution of the United States. Bold statements like this were interspersed throughout the entire film but they serve as the backdrop of the story and are of no importance for moving the plot forward.

A main story arc followed the competition between the two Democratic candidates vying for an endorsement from Senator Thompson.

At first, Morris’ team thought they had the endorsement in the bag. That is until Meyers meets with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti).

Duffy informed Meyers that his candidate offered Thompson the position of Secretary of State in exchange for the endorsement. Meyers was hesitant to believe him, and unwilling to fully broach the subject with his boss, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), because Zara was unaware of the meeting between Duffy and Meyers in the first place.

The entire Thompson plotline was intertwined with the romantic entanglement of Meyers with an aggressive intern, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood).

It’s characters like Stearns who make “intern” a dirty word. She played coy as she flirted with the second most powerful person on the campaign and made her intentions crystal clear when she invited him to have a drink with her.

Lurking in the background of the entire movie was Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei), a political reporter for the New York Times. Horowicz didn’t play nice with any of the campaign staff, no matter how buddy-buddy she attempted to appear on the surface. It was her stories that the campaigns fear the most. Any bit of information she received could be the end of a politician’s career.

The heavy-hitting cast certainly pulled their weight and made what would be a standard political melodrama into a more successful and perhaps more meaningful tale.

Seymour Hoffman and Giamatti shine as jaded top dogs. Seymour Hoffman was a fantastic blend of smooth-talker and sagely advisor. He created a character that the audience wants to believe and more importantly, wants to trust.

Clooney has proven his worth a thousand times over, and the fact that he co-wrote the screenplay for the film, directed it and starred in it is simply a testament to his skill. Clooney’s Morris is an extremely realistic iteration of a politician because the screenplay chooses not to make a huge deal about the distinction between the public and private Morris. They instead chose to focus on one moment of moral failing, which is infinitely more likely.

Gosling’s portrayal of Meyers was the most plot-driven development out of any character, but he still managed to elevate it into a thoughtful performance. He doesn’t rely on dialogue to make you understand the transformation.

In the beginning he was certainly an ideologue, but not to the extent that he would seem naïve. As his role in the campaign becomes more complicated, however, Gosling shifted gears into a stern portrayal of a man who has just had every illusion about his boss completely shattered.

The movie was meant to draw out the role of human desire in politics, and while it was well crafted, it attempted to portray the entire realm of politics in one fashion without drawing out any of the nuances that could have made this film great.