Political thrillers and political dramas are separated by a very fine line. Even slight changes in things like pacing and lighting can make what would otherwise be a straight forward film become edgier and darker. The two can be mixed together, and often have to great success, but some movies don’t make that conscious decision. Some movies can’t make up their mind on what their ultimate goal is and end up suffering because of it. George Clooney’s latest directorial effort, The Ides of March, is a perfect example of that.
Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is a man whose life revolves around politics. He has worked, as he puts it, on more campaigns at the young age of 30 than most of his elders. His latest job comes in the form of Democratic GOP candidate, Mike Morris (George Clooney). Governor Morris is the first person he has ever truly believed would change the way we do things and make a difference in people’s lives. He’s an optimist and trusts those around him, but he’s about to get a lesson in dirty politics when he gets caught up in a media firestorm after meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the assistant to the Governor’s GOP opponent, and his simple life begins to unravel.
There’s a fundamental problem with The Ides of March. It thinks it’s penetrating politics when, in reality, it’s doing and saying nothing that the American people aren’t already aware of. It shows that politicians and those working for them begin with a set of unwavering ideals they promise to hold true before compromising them once they see the true face of politics. They quickly realize that politicking is a dirty game and, if they ever hope to get ahead, they must do things their young, naïve selves thought they never would.
As such, The Ides of March is political piffle, a movie that aims for the Oscars, but, aside from some possible acting nods, lands much lower. It’s a shame because Clooney has proven himself to be a fantastic storyteller with 2005’s Good Night and Good Luck, another politically charged (but media oriented) film that had much more to say than this. As terrific as he is behind the camera and in front, I’m afraid this will end up being little more than a blip on his impressive career.
Still, this is a solid film. A disappointment, sure, but solid. It’s entertaining, relatable to today and serves as yet another vehicle for Ryan Gosling who once again proves himself to be one of the most prolific and versatile actors currently working, but it’s inconsistent. In a way, it’s too cinematic, taking a story that should be told in a straight, dramatic fashion and over stylizing it with contextually inappropriate filmic techniques. Political backstabbing is treated like murder, leading the characters to secretly meet each other in closed down, darkened bars where eerie, silhouetted figures loom in the hall. The media is treated like a peeping tom stalker, the villain in a horror movie, and paranoia begins to eat away at the characters, bringing them to make decisions that lead to the oft heard and obvious political message. Simply put, the film has an identity crisis. It never settles for one tone and doesn’t do a good job of cohering multiple ones.
George Clooney, an outspoken Democrat, sometimes seems to treat this movie more as a cathartic outlet to speak in favor of gay marriage and taxing the wealthy than as a story. As an outspoken Democrat myself, I’d be lying if said I didn’t agree, but as a critic, it’s hard not to question his intentions, especially when the majority of the scenes he appears in are at speeches where he defends his left wing beliefs. Nevertheless, these moments fit comfortably into the story, so they aren’t so much scandalous as they are simply obvious. But that’s the entire movie’s problem. It’s just too obvious. Only those without knowledge of past political scandals or what goes on behind the scenes of a political campaign will find something enlightening. For the rest of us, The Ides of March is watchable, but underwhelming.
The Ides of March receives 3/5