Full disclosure: This review contains some spoilers.
With star power like this and the added bonus of extreme timeliness, there’s no way The Ides of March won’t be a hit. All of the actors deliver stellar performances – Clooney is Clooney, Gosling is the rising star, Hoffman is the scene stealer, Giamatti is the jovial villain, Tomei is the knowing female, and ERW is the naive young woman. Basically, they all fit nicely into their niche roles – ERW being the least typecast of the bunch, but not by much. But there is definitely a reason all of these actors have these kinds of roles, and this film proves that. I had imagined this to be a Clooney/Gosling film, but really, it was a pretty quality ensemble act. I don’t have much to say about the plot – it’s fairly straightforward. A naive strategist is corrupted by the inevitable path of politics, and then has to deal with the consequences. But this is a sharp, well-written and well-directed film. Without getting too film-school-pretentious on you, there were a lot of things that were meaningful outside of the basics on screen.
More importantly, I think this film is one that will stick around. This is a critical time for the United States, politically, and this film hits upon so many of those small nerves – so many, in fact, that it makes an incredibly strong statement about us right now. In a time when the Good Old Boys club is starting – just starting – to crumble around us, this film exposes the underhanded dealings and “understandings” of modern politics. This is a film about the corruption of a smart but doe-eyed strategist, one whose loyalties change completely from the beginning of the film to the end. Early on, Gosling’s Stephen says that he’ll do or say anything, as long as he believes in it – and for a while, I assumed this was a trailer line, one thrown in for the benefit of those on the edge about seeing this. But it’s true. Early on, he believed in integrity, in dignity, Hoffman’s Paul, in Clooney’s Governor and presidential candidate Mike Morris. He truly believed a campaign could be run and won on honest terms. But by the end of the film, he believed only in himself and his ability to manipulate the situation to his own best benefit. He was sucked into the games he so clearly despised, and yet he does so because he believes this is his only choice, this is what he has to do.
One of my favorite parts of this film was Stephen’s inability to deal with the consequences of his own actions. While he had no problem firing Molly “for the good of the campaign,” he was unable to understand how he was being fired when he directly chose to damage the campaign on a personal level. When Paul fired him, he said, “You didn’t make a mistake. You made a choice.” And that sets the tone for the entire film. It was made very clear that within politics, there are no mistakes – only choices. That’s something Paul and Giamatti’s Tom Duffy understood; while both pretended to be on the up and up, as all good politicians do, they both clearly had very ulterior motives, most not revealed on screen. This is a film that made smart implications and expected intelligence from its viewers, which I always appreciate.
And at the same time, this film frustrated me beyond all reason. It perpetuated the fact that regardless of morals, the white men in charge are able to remain masters of politics without real consequence. Morris’ campaign was built on statements he couldn’t fully deliver, and yet he allegedly still succeeded. Lies and half-truths continue to penetrate politics, while citizens continue to believe them because there is no other option. The two women of substance in this film were utterly dependent on the men, for information and for meaning.
The daughter of the DNC Chairman, Molly had her position through family connections and was taken advantage of because of those connections. Eventually she chose suicide over reality, indicating that for a woman faced with her future at the hands of a political giant, she felt there was no other choice. She would rather take her own life than have her own decisions thrown back in her face, her life ruined by those who would deny her the agency to make her own choices without consequence. And when she’s dead, we see everything but her face – in what world is it okay to have her commit suicide, and not even show her face? It doesn’t get more disrespectful than that. Marisa Tomei’s Ida, a journalist who depends on her relationship with these men to continue her career, is the only woman with the potential to affect the plot – and yet she only appears to make things inconvenient for the men, rather than having an important part to play. If you count Morris’ wife as an important woman here, all there is to say is that she is disrespected both by the plot and by Morris, in pretty much every way. When the First Lady has the potential to be a truly powerful woman, dismissing her like this is truly a disservice. If you’re going to give women such a small part in a movie that will be seen by millions, every word, every movement is a statement.
While it’s true that a movie with this much star power can go nowhere but up, that doesn’t excuse it from misogyny and other problematic issues. If the point was to open discussion about the changes that need to be made in the political structure, it could have been more overt. The women and minority characters could have been more pointed. In a film very clearly directed at understanding the downward spiral into dirty politics, there should have been more of a statement made about privilege.
But while there are problems here, clearly, I think this film will probably stand up to time. It’s not just your average political thriller. It’s relevant at a point in time when politics are falling apart and statements like these need to be made, regardless of immediate problems. These problems are also part of the very thing that will make this film stand out – the lacks in this movie are just as important as the presences. It’s a statement on the way things are right now, when we’re on the cusp of extreme change in a world fed up with the obscured views we’ve been dealt by those rich enough to control them.
However, I will predict Oscar nominations for this movie. For acting, Gosling and possibly Hoffman and Giamatti. Clooney maybe, but I’m not counting on it. I wouldn’t be shocked by a Best Picture nom, either. Alexandre Desplat may score something for music, but it’s questionable at best – the moments where there was a lack of music were more potent than those scored. All in all, I anticipate some nominations and possibly some wins.
Problematic as it was, I would recommend this. I did thoroughly enjoy it, and I’m sure anyone with even a passing interest in politics would find this interesting. I haven’t read the play this was based on, Farragut North, but I intend to – if you have, how does it stack up?