[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B005ZCSP9Q][/pullquote] Beware The Ides of March, the soothsayer tells Caesar, but Caesar fails to beware and is betrayed and ultimately murdered by Brutus. March is the month in which George Clooney‘s new film is set – just prior to the primary elections “ a key time in American politics, where the candidates to run for the Presidency are decided. With so much at stake politically, everyone needs to be wary of deceit , and their political lives at least, are all at stake.
We see the battle for the Democratic nomination, a closely run race between Senators Pullman (Michael Mantell) and Morris (Clooney). So, as you can imagine, there’s plenty of scope for plotting, betrayal and backstabbing. The film focuses on Morris’s campaign and specifically on his deputy campaign manager, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). At the start of the film, Stephen is fervent in his admiration for Morris and idealistic verging on naÃ¯ve. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this idealism is going to be sorely tested over the duration of the film.
And so it is. Stephen learns hard lessons about the campaign trail from two experienced old stagers, his boss Paul (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and the rival campaign manager (Paul Giamatti). Dirty secrets are exposed, principles are tested and people are shown to be stuck in squalid compromises. Stephen has to work out who he can believe in, who he can trust and what his priorities. What’s more important: his own professional ambitions or a candidate people can really believe in?
It seems unlikely that it’s a coincidence that The Ides of March is being released at the start of Oscar season. It has ˜Academy Award Nominee’ written all over it, a classy thriller with some big hitting character actors bringing their A games (Giamatti and Hoffman) and the latest rising star (Ryan Gosling) in the lead.
The Ides of March also wants to be a serious film, morally ambiguous and thought provoking, and while it succeeds in part, it’s not without its flaws. Though it’s a film with pleasingly few absolutes, a few elements jar slightly. For example, it’s hard to imagine a politician with Morris’s policies getting anywhere near the White House (a complete end to production of combustion engine cars within ten years anyone?), and this detracts from the intended feeling of realism. In addition, Stephen’s character arc feels a touch too extreme to be completely believable.
A final problem with The Ides of March is the premise that behind political campaigns are these managers, these puppet master figures plotting out their strategies, seeing all the angles and moving people around like pawns. Since The Thick Of It and In The Loop have shown it’s hard not to believe that that, really, these spin doctors are just a bunch of panicky men, running around, using obscene language very creatively, and making it all up as they go along.