The Ides of March is a decent adult drama, but it’s also a depressing commentary on the state of our political system. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a republican, democrat, independent or ‘other’ – the movie is likely to leave you with the impression that we’re all pawns in a political game that’s essentially run by a select group of strategists who will do whatever is necessary to achieve victory for their candidate du jour.
The Ides of March takes place during the frenetic run-up to a heavily-contested presidential primary in Ohio. Ryan Gosling – who’s in everything this year but is oh so good – plays a campaign press secretary/whiz kid who gets caught up in a scandal that threatens to cast a long, dark shadow over his grassroots candidate, Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney).
The movie is loosely based on Farragut North, an off-broadway play that was written by Beau Willimon, a guy who worked on Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. I saw the play a few months ago so it was interesting to see how it was adapted for the big-screen. There are more characters – and more scenes- but ultimately, the core premise remains the same and the weight of the story rests squarely on the shoulders of Gosling’s character, Stephen Myers. His supporting cast is rock solid – including Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a veteran campaign manager who values loyalty above all else, Paul Giamatti as a rival campaign manager who wants to steal Stephen away from the Morris campaign, Evan Rachel Wood as a sexy intern who catches Stephen’s eye, and (a very under-utilized) Marisa Tomei as a hard-nosed newspaper reporter covering the campaign. Gosling shines with a range of glances, smirks, stares and smiles that subtly convey his character’s soul-sucking moral dilemma(s).
In many ways, The Ides of March is for political junkies what Moneyball is for baseball junkies – a good, thought-provoking drama about a ‘sport’ that is flawed and largely resistant to change. The problem with The Ides of March, however, is that it feels so authentic as to lose any “escapist” value. With the 2012 campaign season just heating up, do we really need a reminder of the backroom shenanigans, high-level wheeling and dealing, collusion and cover-ups that could very well be considered “politics as usual”? I would vote “no” – if not for the intensely captivating Gosling and the debonair, twinkle-eyed Clooney. Perhaps this will be the role that finally gets Gosling some love from the voting bloc that really matters: The Academy.