Actor Ryan Gosling (L) and actor/ director George Clooney attend the Premiere of Columbia Pictures' "The Ides Of March" held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theatre on September 27, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Getty Images)more pics »The Bottom Line Should you see it? Yes.
Why? May not exceed expectations, but a very solid political drama starring some of the best talent in Hollywood. High hopes for this film: George Clooney will recreate the magic of Good Night and Good Luck, Ryan Gosling will bring his trademark intensity to what seems like a garden-variety role, the Shakesperean title will deliver a killer denouement. Not to say The Ides of March is a disappointment, because the film is solid, but The Ides of March is a disappointment.
What one wants is an exceptional exercise in the dissection of American politics, not a derivative "thriller" rehashing the same old political themes we've seen time again. For a film with such star power and potential, The Ides does little to separate itself from other political films. It doesn't have the depth or scope of The Candidate and isn't as entertaining as Il Divo or The Queen.
Despite the promise of a cast featuring Clooney, Gosling, Philip Seymour-Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti, The Ides fails to deliver anything transcendent. In any case, if expectations are kept in check, one should find the film an enjoyable theater-going experience. It's a good movie, just not a great one.
The Ides of March centers its story around Stephen Meyers (Gosling), a smart, but idealistic democratic staffer who is the right-hand of campaign manager Paul Zara (Hoffman). They're running the show for the dem's lead candidate, Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). On the other side of the stage is Tom Duffy (Giamatti) who's running the campaign for Morris' party rival.
The story is simple and straightforward enough: Meyers is the young political star whose world is rocked when he finds out (GASP) politics is a dirty game. He naively takes a meeting with Duffy and from there the spool unravels. He falls out of favor with Zara and is forced to make his own decision about playing dirty politics. The environment corrupts Meyers and the sky is blue and so on. The story is so simple, in fact, there is nothing new in it to be learned about politics. One could watch a single episode of the first or final season of The West Wing and be more educated in campaign processes. That said, there isn't really anything wrong with that. The film is tightly written, acted, and resolved in its 101 minutes and Clooney takes no chances from the director's chair, opting to play it safe.
The Ides of March is typically referred to as the day Caesar was killed by Brutus on the steps of the portico. The ides, in the Roman calendar, is the 15th of the month. The film references the 15th once (the day of the democratic nomination), but does little else to warrant such a heavy title. The script, by Clooney and 3 others, including Beau Willimon (who wrote the play), is a by-the-books political tale.
Even the collective talent of the cast cannot raise the story. They all do their best, especially Hoffman, who plays Zara with a paranoid edge worthy of the chain-smoking political-lifer the character is. Gosling is also impressive. He carefully delivers his lines, portraying Meyers with an quiet intelligence that makes him the smartest guy in the room. An early scene where Meyers explains their strategy to Morris regarding a "service for college" policy is especially great. Clooney, Giamatti, and Evan Rachel-Wood, who plays a campaign intern, all show up as well.
The cast is not the problem. The unfulfilled promise of such a great cast is. They deserve better than this story of political naivete and awakening. If Meyers is so smart, why can he not see the forest for the trees? Great genre films need to advance the genre, not remain static commentary on old ideas. Politics is a dirty game. There is nothing extraordinary worth examining there aside from what makes it dirty. Who are these puppet-masters behind the scenes of the politicians? How do they get to be such unconscionable sociopaths? Unfortunately, The Ides of March is unconcerned with any of these questions, and all too concerned with telling another predictable tale about dirty politics.