The Ides of March
Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is an ambitious, yet idealistic campaign manager that believes he’s found the perfect candidate in Mike Morris (George Clooney). Morris is everyone’s dream politician; he’s presumably honest, he wants to tax the rich, stop the wars, balance the budget and make America a better place. It’s easy to see why Stephen is enamored with him. Early on, both Stephen and Mike draw their line in the sand when it comes to compromising their morals. Mike won’t make a deal with a rival democrat because he doesn’t respect the other guy’s views, even though doing so will probably win him the election. Stephen won’t make a deal with a rival campaign manager because he feels he’s working for the right candidate, even though he’s not sure they’re going to win.
The overlying theme of the film is the exploration of what it takes, and how far they have to be pushed, for someone to go against their moral code. This is a fascinating theme and if properly explored, it would have made THE IDES OF MARCH one of the best films of the year. Unfortunately, the film jumped from plot point to plot point without any real consideration of the emotional toll the events were having on the characters. We liked and respected both Mike and Stephen early on, but both of them seemed too willing to look out for number one when all the cards were on the table. Rather than rushing to the next event, director George Clooney needed to spend more time showing the inner turmoil that both Stephen and Mike dealt with when they were faced with their moral-compromising situations (which I will refrain from elaborating on for fear of spoiling the film). But one of the catalysts for the change in character is Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), whose character was used as a plot device and served no purpose of her own. I expected her situation to hit a little deeper for Mike and Stephen, but she only seemed to bring out the sleazy politician in both of them.
It’s hard not to like Ryan Gosling and George Clooney in a movie, but THE IDES OF MARCH managed to do just that. Neither Stephen nor Mike were characters we liked or respected. If anything, we grew to dislike them as the film went on. Unfortunately, the lack of a protagonist we could root for held the film back and made it difficult to watch at times and although the politics and back-stabbing made for some intense moments, we still wanted to see someone with some sort of moral code prevail. Again, I bought into the grander theme of exploring what it takes for someone to compromise their morals, but March just couldn’t create deep enough characters for the audience to respect their breaking points.
Missed opportunities aside, THE IDES OF MARCH is an actor’s movie in that it’s heavy on dialogue and rich with opportunities for actors to sink their teeth into scenes. It showcases two of the best actors of our generation in Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, who played rival campaign managers, but sadly, never shared the screen together. Their greatness should not be underestimated because each actor brought so much to their characters and made each scene they were in better. Of course, the film also features current it-boy Ryan Gosling, who once again turns in another star-making performance. At one point, Giamatti’s character describes Stephen as making his difficult job look easy and that’s exactly what Gosling does with acting. He takes scenes that other actors struggle with and makes them look effortless. As for Clooney, he did fine with what he had, but this is Gosling’s movie.
It’s hard not to admire the incredible performances from every actor involved (forgot to mention a great, but small supporting role from Marisa Tomei) and their ability to embrace their characters. But given the overarching and complicated themes, Clooney should have made this more thought provoking and intense than what he did. As is, THE IDES OF MARCH is a straightforward political drama that merely showcases some good performances but doesn’t celebrate them.