By Vinny Abbatecola
How well do we know our politicians? Hopefully well enough, since we trust them with our nation’s future. Will they keep their promises to voters, or are they lying through their television-friendly white teeth?
It’s not a complete shocker that as much as we do know about them could be equal to what remains in the dark. George Clooney, who is very involved in governmental matters, directs and stars in The Ides of March, a twisty political drama that pulls back the voting booth curtain on the dirty secrets and dealings that can occur on the campaign trail.
Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling, The Notebook) is a young, hot-shot campaign manager for Gov. Mike Morris (George Clooney, Ocean’s Eleven). When the race for the Democratic presidential nomination brings the group to Ohio, the men realize that how well they do there could make or break Morris’s chances at winning the nomination.
When the opposing Democratic hopeful’s campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, Saving Private Ryan) witnesses Meyers’ skills, Tom encourages him to switch over to his side. When Meyers neglects to notify his boss Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Big Lebowski) about the meeting, Paul fires him. Fueled with anger, Meyers plans to join Duffy and use a career-damaging secret about Governor Morris against him.
The film’s cast emanates the heated tension that causes opposing sets of morals to ignite sparks on the campaign trail. Gosling fluently synthesizes suave personality with political smarts. He’s a flirtatious guy who knows how to work a girl as well as he can work a campaign. His character easily gives in to flattery, which becomes his undoing and sets the film’s events into ominous action.
Clooney brings his passionate political attitudes to his role, and it’s visible that he’s incorporating his love of Democratic ideals into the film. His character almost mirrors how he is in reality.
Giamatti is the essence of an unfair political gamer as the manipulative and deceitful Duffy. Hoffman is entirely different from Duffy as Meyers’ boss, who values loyalty over all else. The two are as opposite as Republicans are to Democrats. The youthful and gorgeous Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe) is impressive as a campaign intern who catches Gosling’s eye. She is thrown into a tough adult world when a life-altering secret of hers is revealed, and her playfulness turns to desperation as quickly as an undecided voter’s choice in an election. Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler) does a lot with a little as the pesky The New York Times reporter who always gets the scoop.
Clooney is certainly not an outsider to political cinema. He dabbled in it twice back in 2005 when he starred in Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck, the latter of which he also directed, and he received awards and nominations for both projects. It doesn’t matter if viewers agree or disagree with his political views; all are likely to appreciate his fervor for politics and film and his gift for uniting them into sharp, stimulating stories.
The screenplay by Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon is based on the latter’s 2008 play Farragut North. The first half hour of the film is mainly for the fleshing-out of Clooney’s role as a candidate, his policies and the current status of his campaign. But when a major plot revelation about one of the character’s is exposed, the movie spikes to life. It becomes a web of scandal, blackmail, corruption and revenge, and some people aren’t who they appear to be.
Political films mercifully tend to leave out all of the tiresome mudslinging between candidates that we watch on television. The Ides of March spares us all of that as well, and serves us an intelligently engaging story. It has my vote.