Review of The Ides of March

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George Clooney directs and stars in this 2011 political drama, which is based on the play by Beau Willimon. The film follows a young press spokesman (Ryan Gosling) who falls prey to backroom politics, the treacherous manipulations of veteran operatives and the seduction of a young intern (Evan Rachel Wood). Also starring Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Max Minghella.
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Movie Review: "The Ides of March"

Rating: R (pervasive language)
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: October 7, 2011
Directed by: George Clooney
Genre: Drama
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In "The Ides of March," George Clooney stars as Mike Morris, the idealistic governor from Pennsylvania. He has very high ambitions and seeks to win the Democratic nomination to run for president. In order to achieve his goals, he has hired a staff that includes battle-weary campaign manager Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and press secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling).

Though several candidates are seeking the nomination, Morris is considered a front runner along with Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell). The story is based on the play "Farragut North" by Beau Willimon, who co-wrote the screenplay with Clooney and Grant Heslov. They keep the action centered on the attempt of both candidates to win the Ohio primary, which would basically seal enough delegates to get them the nomination.

Though the action takes place because of the primary, the main focus is not on the candidates themselves but on their staffs. In particular, Meyers and his seemingly unfaltering belief in the Morris platform becomes the focus. Morris believes that in order to invigorate a stagnant economy, green technology must be embraced. He thinks it will create jobs and make the planet a better place to live. Meyers has the same principles and beliefs, which is why he is trying to work his way up the ladder within Morris' staff.

Through some political maneuvering that involves an affair with the beautiful intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), Meyers begins to become a much bigger player in the campaign than a press secretary is supposed to be. His backstage machinations set in motion a series of events that could ultimately bring down the Morris campaign if he gets caught. If he doesn't get caught, it could mean Morris will secure the nomination. There is really no in between, making this the ultimate political game.

As both candidates begin to focus on the battleground state, their staffs all pull several punches behind the scenes. Each side is deeply devoted to their man, or so we are led to think. The Senator's campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) wishes to test the young, idealistic Meyers by offering him a position on his staff. This would be a big opportunity for Meyers, who is every bit as ambitious as he is idealistic.

What he wants as much as a Morris victory is to have Zara's job as campaign manager. Zara isn't likely to step down anytime soon, and the offer to join Duffy on the other side would be a promotion. Duffy is no fool, he knows this decision will distract Meyers and possibly give him an edge over the Morris campaign as a result. In an election where razor-thin margins separate the candidates, any edge is a good one.

As Meyers struggles with the decisions he has made and will have to soon make, the audience is treated to a bravura performance from Gosling. The script shows how idealism and ambition ultimately clash in a political campaign. No matter which one Meyers chooses, he will have to betray some, if not all, of his principles. The result is a frenzied, tense second act that hurdles toward the conclusion, which is as satisfying as it is thrilling. Will we see Meyers achieve the success he craves so much, or will we see him fall into a pit of his own making?

Clooney is an excellent actor, which in turn makes him an excellent director. He cannily takes his actor's eye for detail and strong performances and gets these qualities out of every performer. In particular, Giamatti as the slimy campaign opposition and Jeffrey Wright as a cagey Ohio Senator are standouts. Though she doesn't have a large role, Marisa Tomei is fantastic in her limited scenes as a New York Times reporter who puts the screws to Meyers for information.

Though the movie focuses only on the Democratic nomination, you don't need to be a Democrat to watch it. Republicans, Libertarians and Independents alike may enjoy watching the political machine in action. It is a bit like watching how the sausage gets made, only far more entertaining. Since the film is based on a play, there are some monologues that really give the viewers insight into the minds of these complex and often fatally flawed men. Politicians pay people a lot of money to make them look like the perfect candidate. The irony of "The Ides of March" is that it may take an amoral man to have the gall be able to churn out that perfect, moral candidate.