The Ides of March

Liberal, Obama-plugging and prone to making vicious jokes about Charlton Heston, George Clooney has never made any secret of his political leanings. However, it’d be a mistake to think that his latest passion project The Ides of March is a paean to the Democratic party. Rather, Clooney has directed an uncompromisingly harsh look at the back room machinations of the Blues which seeks to show that under the skin all political parties are much of a slippery muchness. But you knew that, right? Your best bet is to ignore the tutting and focus on enjoying a superb cast telling an interesting story.

The presidential election is fast approaching, and the Democratic party’s struggle to find a candidate has narrowed into a two-horse race. Idealistic campaign strategist Stephen (Gosling) is helping mastermind the campaign of state governor and all-round champ Mike Morris (Clooney), a switched-on liberal who advocates breaking the US’s reliance on oil and transforming domestic industry with a new focus on green tech. His boss Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) may be jaded, but Stephen has seen the future and he’ll do whatever it takes to propel Morris all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

However, as Stephen gets more involved in the campaign he begins to realise that nothing and nobody is as pure and high-minded as he is himself. As Morris’ poll lead becomes progressively harder to sustain Paul is forced to come up with ruthlessly pragmatic coping strategies, whilst his opposite number Tom (Paul Giamatti) is no less conniving in his attempts to bolster Morris’ opponent. And into the middle of this increasingly convoluted battle sashays Molly (Wood), a clever and appealing intern whose short-sighted actions may have repercussions for her, Stephen and the entire campaign. As nobody memorably said, a day can be a very long time in politics…

My first impression on seeing The Ides of March was that it would make a much better play than a film. Static scenes of concentrated, complex dialogue, monologues crying out for a stage from which to bellow them and a great deal of mute shots in which Ryan Gosling strides between pre-prepared situations all scream ‘adapted play’, and sure enough The Ides of March has its origins on Broadway. It probably should have stayed there. The sense of theatrical heightened reality is never quite lost; a score apparently stitched together from LotR offcuts crashes in at every opportunity, and in the absence of any scenes which aren’t just ‘men in a room’ Clooney goes totally mad with melodramatic lighting and so on. Seriously, nobody actually stands in the shadows.

That said, if The Ides of March is a pointless adaptation it is at least one filled with impressive performances. Ryan Gosling continues a superb year with his passionate performance as the political ingĂ©nu who comes to realise that he must choose between principles and ambition, and George Clooney’s reserved Governor switches eerily between charismatic man of the people and ruthless backroom wrangler. The greatest shame is that we don’t see more of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti – both are phenomenal as the wily campaign managers, and their lone scene together is crackling with years of suppressed tension. The plot is well-paced and engaging, and as the wheels turn Stephen feels more and more like a sort of tragic hero, irresistibly driven away from his ideals by the myriad complications of the political game.

The play on which The Ides of March is based was itself based on the events of the 2004 Democratic primary; seven years down the line, this film has very little to say which we don’t already know. However, it’s a competently made feature which combines excellent performances with unashamedly intelligent writing; not much of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was relevant to the current political situation in Britain, but that didn’t stop us liking it and it shouldn’t stop you enjoying The Ides of March for what it is. Mind you, it’s got bugger all to do with Julius Caesar

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