The Ides Of March (2011) Review (R)

WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD… WARNING: SPOILERS.

I should have known what to expect from the fact that the two gushing blurbs on the posters above are taken from magazines that are more focused on how people look than anything they say. i was hoping for a good film, though. The premise for The Ides of March is somewhat misleading. It purports to be about a young idealist named Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) that has worked his way up to being a hotshot campaign advisor in  the Democratic party. He is not the campaign manager, but he is next in line. He BELIEVES in his candidate, a Barak Obama stand-in (complete with posters, campaign stops and rhetoric similar to the pre-election Obama 2008 presidential campaign), Governor Mike Morris, played by the film’s director, George Clooney. The early stages of the film show Meyers living, eating and breathing the political campaign. He writes the speeches; the words come out of the candidate’s mouth. He stands in the shadows and watches and makes sure the candidate says and does everything right. He sleeps with teenage interns. He takes on—What? Oh. Yeah, there’s a young intern who tells Meyers that she’s older than she is, so that he’ll sleep with her. It’s okay, though, becasue she’s really smart for her age… I’m pausing while the sarcasm sinks in… The intern will have a role in the story other than sleeping with the campaign advisor… She’ll sleep with an even more important. Yep. It’s that cliche… Anyway. The film also shows Governor Morris butting heads with Meyers and declining to make compromises on his principles. All of this early setup stuff is all for show. We don’t get indications of how the characters REALLY are and if you’re going to depict them as the movie does, then you MUST give some indicators as to who the characters really are instead of just changing them completely (and almost arbitrarily) midway through.

There are a number of reasons why I did not like this, but the biggest one is that I didn’t like the characters involved. There is no one here that isn’t a snake in the grass. They all lie, even the ‘victim’ of the film (the intern). No one in the film has an ounce of character. If Clooney’s aim was just to present the politcal world as corrupt, then you can’t say that he failed to that end. But, just to say politicians and the people that surround them lack scruples isn’t exactly a bold statement or a novel idea to build a film around. I think the biggest problem is that Gosling’s campaign advisor seemed to lack a third act. He’s set up as an idealist but when he ‘falls from grace’, we find out he has no more integrity than any of the others in the film. The procomations of him being an idealist aren’t true. He’s just out for power like everyone else.  Without someone with redeeming qualities to act as a mirror to all of the moral transgressions/conundrums, there’s no point to this other than to cast a blanket statement saying they’re all bad and then not producing a proposed solution. It’s pointless. This isn’t even set up as tragedy. If the lead did have convictions at the beginning, then at least you would have that. Maybe, that was the point and I missed it. That no one believes what they say? Whatever…

This is a political film and it’s very much slanted to the left, but I don’t see either side liking this film. Conservatives will not like the politics of the characters involved or the ideas presented so condescendingly (Clooney’s really in his element here), but the strange thing, as bad as Republicans are framed here from the liberal viewpoint, what is presented as the Democratic party is highly distasteful, to say the least. The acting is fine. Gosling is adequate even if I’m not particularly a fan of his. Clooney is usually pretty good when he plays serious to the point of being mean and abrasive. He’s good here, but to what end?  I needed SOMEONE in the film to be capable of taking the ‘high road’ as I would call it, but whenever a fork in the road is presented to a character in this, they always take the wrong one. When everyone in a film is a snake (from the politicians to the advisors to the reporters) then what’s to care about? Few directors can pull this sort of story off and Clooney sure isn’t one of them. At least not with this film.  It certainly looks handsome with its grade A production values, sets, cinematography, etc, but it’s devoid of actual substance, much like our general view of  politicians, I guess. What it all comes down to is Clooney making a not so bold statement that all politicians and the people that participate in politics are corrupt backstabbers. It’s possible that’s true, but I need more than that to interest me in a film.

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