The “March” of the corrupt

ides of march

The Ides of March

dir. George Clooney

Release Date: Oct 07, 11

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Far scarier than any horror movie you’ll see this year, The Ides of March is a political thriller about the erosion of a man’s very humanity by the double-dealing processes behind a presidential election. There might not be a better marriage of actor and character this year than Ryan Gosling as Stephen Myers, an ambitious campaign coordinator hired on by Mike Morris (George Clooney, who wrote and directed as well) for a run at the White House. Gosling’s recently proved himself a master of the slow burn in Blue Valentine and Drive, and here it’s devastating, made all the more so by the relative innocence with which he begins.

Ides joins up with Stephen and Gov. Morris during the primary phase. In a tight race for the Democratic ticket, Morris wants to put Ohio away. For the campaign, Stephen and showrunner Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) have a sort of mantra: We take Ohio, we’ll take North Carolina, even if we split Texas, it doesn’t matter. (The political doublespeak comes rapidly from the film’s opening minutes, reaching a crescendo of whiplash-inducing velocity by the climax.) Trouble arises when Morris, a relentlessly idealistic candidate, refuses to play the games which Paul knows must be played and Stephen is only discovering, such as the retooling of certain ideology-based stances, or the promise of Washington office to a high-roller (Jeffery Wright) with a massive delegate base.

Attracted to the campaign because of this unyielding honesty, Stephen finds himself spread precariously thin because of the potent combination of his intellect and his naivete. The rival campaign head Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) wants Stephen to switch allegiances, a nosy reporter (Marisa Tomei) wants information, Morris’ sexy intern (Evan Rachel Wood) wants Stephen in no uncertain terms and Morris himself just wants to get elected. When the dominoes begin to fall, spurred on by Stephen taking an ill-advised lunch with Tom, Ides constructs a precarious web from lies of omission, infighting and ultimately a massive secret that could derail Morris’ entire campaign and the careers of all involved.

That this secret becomes a bargaining chip testifies to Ides‘ central thesis, that a truly honest campaign may be impossible in the modern era. Clooney takes pains to draw real-world allegory, sometimes with a heavy hand (Morris’ campaign posters look very familiar), but reaches at some brutal truths. At one point, Paul points out that the GOP has won for decades with brutal campaigns, and that “we have to get meaner too.” In the world of The Ides of March, and perhaps on a much broader scale as well, change is secondary to the acquisition of power. If “power corrupts” isn’t a wholly new idea, then the idea of corruption as a mere starting point for a long and fruitful career proves a sobering testimonial. When all is done, Clooney ends the film with a stark close-up of Gosling, in which we’re all forced to look into the face of a man who will decide our next president and hopefully have the wherewithal to experience a crushing sense of terror.