THE IDES OF MARCH (2011) (***1/2)
It’s not surprising that George Clooney would make a political film. What might be surprising is how cynical the film is about our political process. For sure Clooney works in liberal ideas, but it’s not the point. His character just happens to be a Democrat. The political policies his character talks about easily be switched to the other side and it wouldn’t change the central theme, which is that politics is completely compromised with flawed humans looking out for themselves.
Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling, DRIVE) is a young campaign operative who has worked on more campaigns at 30 than most people have worked by 40. He’s an idealist who really believes in the presidential candidate Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney). He works under the grizzled operative Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman, CAPOTE), who is working behind the scenes to seal a deal with former primary candidate Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright, CASINO ROYALE), whose delegates would put either of the two remaining candidates over the top.
Morris talks about not compromising on his principles. He doesn’t want to take union money. He doesn’t want to makes back room deals that go against his policy goals. Myers pushes the candidate to be bold and not go halfway on his ideas. But politics seem to always get in the way of ideals. Scandals arise and loyalties will be questioned. Stephen will be pressed on what is morally right. Are the greater goals of Morris worth acting unethically to cover up problems?
Pulling the strings of this paranoid thriller are others who all have their own agendas. Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, WIN WIN) is the campaign chief for Morris’ opponent who wants to recruit Myers. Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD) is a very connected newspaper reporter who seems to know everything and is willing to print it all no matter who it hurts. Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood, TV’s TRUE BLOOD) is an intern for the Morris campaign who has eyes for Myers. She also has a very important father. Morris’ wife Cindy (Jennifer Ehle, CONTAGION) is not off limits to be used to convince her husband to act the way his handlers want him to act. Ben Harpen (Max Minghella, SYRIANA) is a junior operative who tries to keep his head down, do his job and hope he rises when the crap begins to pile up.
Gosling makes Myers a cool and clean operator. He’s a little full of himself, but he has to be to be doing what he is doing. Nothing more fires him up than defending his belief in his candidate against the older more jaded political insiders. Wood’s college-aged Molly is instinctively drawn to Myers, because he exudes confidence. So he must he great in bed. Wood makes Molly sexy and sweet. She knows what she is doing and just wants to be involved because she might be a bigger true believer than Myers. Hoffman’s Paul is just the opposite. He’s paranoid and vindictive. He takes politics personally.
Taking things personally is what Clooney is getting at. Personality clashes, double crosses and personal survival are far more the top motivations for political moves than political ideals. There is a moment between Myers and another where it’s a tense stand off on who will blink first. A simple mistake starts the boulder rolling and Myers has to run in order to keep from getting crushed. What the boulder doesn’t know is that Myers is working out how to crush it.