© 2011 Ray Wong
Political drama has a certain appeal because politics in itself is fascinating, and what goes on behind closed door is not something to which we're privy. The Ides of March is more than just a political drama, though. It also chronicles the downfall of an ambitious but idealistic young man.
At 30, Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is the youngest junior campaign manager in a presidential race. The Democratic governor, Mike Morris (George Clooney), is neck in neck in the polls with his opponent in the final days of the Ohio primary. Stephen's boss, senior campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is in a closed-door negotiation with Ohio Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) in hopes of getting the latter's endorsement. If Morris gets the endorsement, he'd most certainly get the nomination.
Stephen is ambitious but also idealistic. He has been in the business for several years, and he's never been more sure about a candidate. He believes in all the goodness Morris possesses and represents. However, as the race in Ohio heats up and backdoor deals are being made, Stephen's faith begins to unravel. Stephen makes a mistake by speaking in private to his opponent's campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). While he turns down Duffy's offer to switch side, the damage has been done. Somehow the secret meeting is leaked to reporter Ida (Marisa Tomei), who threatens to print the story (which would possibly get Stephen fired) unless he gives her the inside scoop on the Thompson deal.
At the same time, Stephen discovers the governor has had a one-time sexual liaison with a young intern, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), who happens to be the daughter of DNC Chairman Jack Stearns (Gregory Itzin). Loyal to Morris, Stephen tries to cover up the indiscretion for him. However, soon he is fired by Paul, with the blessing of Morris, and he feels betrayed. He swears to get even. An unexpected turn of event gives Stephen just the ammunition to fire back.
Ryan Gosling (Drive) has been lauded as an actor's actor of his generation -- he has proven his ability in smaller, independent movies. Now, it looks like he's ready for big things and superstardom, given his latest big, flashy roles in Crazy, Stupid, Love and Drive. As the protagonist, Gosling is charming, introspective and intense. His performance is very measured and reserved, much like the character itself, and he portrays well a man jolted to the dark reality of politics.
George Clooney (The American) has a supporting role as Morris, the charismatic "good-guy" candidate that is perfect for him. Clooney's performance is solid and reserved, and he knows when to step into the limelight vs. in the background to let Gosling shine. Philip Seymour Hoffman (Moneyball) is excellent as Morris's senior campaign manager. He is gruff and tough, and manages to portray a man who has been in the business for way too long -- a great reflection for Stephen. Paul Giamatti (Win Win) is great as Stephen's slime-ball opponent. He has only a few pivotal scenes, but he steals every one of them from the superb Gosling.
As beautiful intern Molly, Evan Rachel Wood (The Conspirator) is a great match for Gosling. Her character gives the movie a needed emotional core, and she gives an impressive performance as the spirited but naive young woman. Marisa Tomei (Crazy, Stupid, Love) is perfect as the ruthless reporter, and Jeffrey Wright (Source Code) oozes sliminess as Senator Thompson.
The screenplay is written by George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck), who also directs, Grant Heslov (Good Night, and Good Luck), and Beau Willimon, based on the latter's play Farragut North. Given Willimon's involvement, one can assume the screenplay adheres to the original material. It is more of a fable or cautionary tale than a true, realistic politic drama. It reminds me Star Wars, how we follow Anakin Skywalker's descent. Stephen Myers is a contemporary Darth Vader. The main characters are relatively well drawn and developed.
The screenplay is taut and fast-paced. It can be a bit intimidating and confusing as the political chess players are introduced and the game unfolds. The dialogue is generally sharp and intelligent. The plot is well thought-out and structured, but at times it feels contrived or forced. Certain plot twists seem too well orchestrated and woven, as if the players knew exactly what would happen next: It's a writer's fantasy and doesn't really translate that well in a drama. It feels more plot-driven than it should be.
Clooney's direction has matured. This is a world-class production, and he's done a great job. Everything works well together, and technically the film is superb. There is not a dull moment and Clooney keeps the plot flowing well.
The Ides of March is a thought-provoking, handsomely made fable. I like the way these players play each other with intricate moves and hidden motives. I like how the hero slowly gets sucked into the corrupt underbelly of politics. Yet it's not a perfect movie, and it leaves you feeling manipulated afterwards. It's not necessarily a good feeling, much like politics itself.
Stars: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright
Director: George Clooney
Writers: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon (based on play Farragut North by Beau Willimon)
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 101 minutes
Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 8
Production - 8
Total - 7.5 out of 10.0