The Ides of March is a serious film that reveals Clooney as a director capable of welding his fellow performers into a superb ensemble while sustaining both dramatic tension and moral focus.
The Ides of March is George Clooney’s fourth film as director and his second dealing specifically with politics, and his career as a publicly engaged film-maker now inevitably invites comparison with that of Robert Redford. Goodnight, and Good Luck, Clooney’s movie about ethical communications and the confrontation in 1953 between liberal broadcaster Ed Murrow and witch-hunting cold warrior Joe McCarthy, is his equivalent of Quiz Show, Redford’s movie on burgeoning corruption in the media in the 1950s. The Ides of March is his version of The Candidate, Redford’s 1972 picture about democratic politics and the sacrifices and compromises involved in winning elections. The title from Plutarch and Shakespeare is intended to make us think about the scheming and backstabbing that accompanied the assassination of Julius Caesar on 15 March 44BC, and perhaps to suggest that things were ever thus.
Clooney’s film is altogether more brutal than The Candidate, which, if only for Redford’s presence, retains a core of idealism, as indeed to an even greater extent do Redford’s post-Watergate thrillers, All the President’s Men and Three Days of the Condor. In fact the informed cynicism that The Ides of March brings to mind is that displayed in Gore Vidal’s play and film about a presidential election, The Best Man, when Vidal himself was deeply involved as a Jack Kennedy supporter, as well as his sequence of political novels that began in 1967 with Washington, DC.
Co-scripted by Clooney with Beau Willimon (on whose play Farragut North the film is based) and Grant Heslov (who was Oscar-nominated for Goodnight, and Good Luck), The Ides of March is set largely in Cincinnati where the handsome liberal governor of Pennsylvania, Mike Morris (Clooney), is competing in the Democratic primary elections with his eye on the presidency. It’s March, the streets are slushy with melting snow and the air’s full of heady rhetoric about the future of America spoken by people with patriotic pins on their left lapels standing in front of outsized Stars and Stripes. A man emerges from the darkness to speak with disarming honesty about his liberal political positions, but he’s not Governor Morris, who is in fact a background figure. He’s Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a 30-year-old aide of great brilliance who is using a speech he’s written for Morris to test and adjust the acoustics for Morris’s public debate with a fellow contender. Gosling subtly suggests something indefinably suspect about his character.
Chief assistant to Morris’s seasoned campaign manager, the rumpled Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the quiet, confident Meyers is a devoted admirer of the governor, who presses all the right liberal buttons on the big issues of the day: global warming, cautious military commitments overseas and equitable taxation at home. All seems set for a victory that will likely propel Morris towards the White House. But this isn’t a movie about good guys finishing last or virtue being rewarded. It’s an intelligent, consistently involving thriller with the kind of unexpected melodramatic events that crop up in all US elections. These usually involve inappropriate sex, chicanery, bribery and blackmail, and changing the course of history by forcing people to compromise their declared principles and make sacrifices in order to survive.
The trouble starts in a low key when Meyers accepts an invitation to meet Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the tough, experienced campaign manager for a rival Democratic candidate. Duffy invites him to jump ship and get on the winning side. It’s not about electing a president, he says, “it’s about getting your man into office”. Has Meyers made a mistake even meeting Duffy? One small error leads to a succession of lies and betrayals. Meyers finds himself involved with a 20-year-old intern, who happens to be the daughter of the Democratic National Committee chairman. He covers up for a foolish indiscretion on the governor’s part. A New York Times reporter eager for scoops threatens to expose him. A rightwing senator bargains for a major cabinet position in a likely Morris administration. The two older campaign managers appear ready to cast him aside.
Nobody’s hands are clean, though only Meyers starts out believing he’s acting in a disinterested, principled manner. Everyone ends up fighting to save themselves, their careers and ambitions, trapped by human weakness rather than being persuaded by superior arguments or circumstances. But is it better to win and deliver on half your pledges or retain your purity and achieve nothing? Clooney’s attentive direction keeps us engaged with practical political matters and draws us into the drama by his concentration on large close-ups, which bring his characters together in conspiratorial intimacy. At one crucial moment, however, we are left outside, invited to speculate, when the governor calls on his campaign manager to join him in his black limousine, parked in a dingy alley. Hoffman dowses his scarcely touched cigarette, and gets in the car. We can’t see through the tinted glass and we don’t hear a word. But the camera, placed across the road, edges a few feet forward as if urged by the viewer. When Hoffman emerges and the car drives off, we know a Rubicon has been crossed.
Courtesy: The Guardian
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