October 22, 2011

The Ides of March

The Ides of March is, at its most obvious, about how corruption is unavoidable in politics. It can be inadvertently bumped into, but regardless, it sticks like glue, leaving an indelible impression. The impression is either on the public, when they are made aware of the corruption, or on the corrupt person who chooses to keep one improper act a secret by committing more improper acts: corruption begets corruption.

Beneath the moralistic, cynical representation of the inherent corruptibility of politics and politicians, George Clooney's latest picture is an attempt to burst the balloon of the Idealist, the one who believes that it's possible for a politician to change the world for the better. It's done with a kind of effortless, winsome skill, because Clooney plays the kind of politician, at the surface level, that you know Clooney wishes could really exist; the kind of politician (again, only at the surface) that Clooney wishes he could be, were he to ever step into the political realm himself. As the hip young(ish) presidential candidate, Clooney's Governor Mike Morris is progressive, answers the questions he's asked, and isn't afraid to say what he really thinks, regardless of how it will be received by the media or the public. He plays the ultimate white liberal--stylish, sophisticated, and dedicated to principle. (Of course, we find out pretty soon what his true colors are.)

Ryan Gosling plays Morris's junior campaign adviser, a rising hot shot who seems to be incapable of making a wrong move or a bad judgment. He believes fully in the cause of his boss, who is trying to win the Democratic primary election against a more traditional, less viable candidate who still has a shot of winning because he's willing to play dirty. Morris refuses do get into the mud. This ultimately becomes a test of wills: how long can a politician afford not to play dirty?

The Ides of March has a conspiracy thriller-esque aura about it, but it's just an aura. The film is deliberately paced, which is fine, but after a while you realize it's not really moving toward anything. There aren't any really pulse-pounding moments, the kind of tingling excitement you expect from a political thriller. Even though the title suggests something dramatic on a Shakespearean scale, The Ides of March is tame. You begin to realize that the lack of pulse-pounding is symptomatic of the lack of a pulse. It's a characterological analysis, not a thriller, which would be fine if it added up to more at the end. It's only intermittently compelling, and ultimately forgettable.

The actors make up for the movie. Ryan Gosling's performance is strong: he demonstrates his capability as a leading man. His character undergoes a major moral and idealistic shift in the film, and he adapts to this shift with masterful control of himself. That's the whole point of the movie, that the real political players will make dramatic, character-changing shifts in the blink of an eye without blinking an eye. But The Ides of March leaves you feeling unaffected by its story and its sobering message, probably because it's telling you something you already knew. It's a moderately entertaining reminder of why we are so disenchanted with politics on both sides of the aisle.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Ehle, and Max Minghella co-star.

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