This year has been a great year for good, high quality cinema. The Ides of March is one of 2011’s best. It’s directed by George Clooney (who also takes a supporting role) and stars Ryan Gosling, the hottest – both talent-wise and looks-wise – young actor on the planet right now. It’s a twisty and compelling political thriller about the power game that goes on behind the scenes during an election campaign.
Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, the press secretary to the potential next President, governor Mike Morris (Clooney). Meyers may not be the top-dog on the campaign – that position goes to Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – but he has a certain power and control that his opponents revere and envy. He knows exactly what to do, and when to do it, for the benefit of Morris’s left-wing bid to secure public confidence. But Meyer’s talents attract attention from Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), a rival campaign manager who is determined to get this bright young chap to work for him.
But, as we know with previous political dramas (and real life), disloyalty doesn’t sit well within a team, especially if that team sees the White House as the ultimate finishing post. Plus, a New York Times journalist (Marisa Tomei) is hovering round them like a friendly though dangerous locust desperate to discover the secrets that the campaign is trying to bury. And there are other problems. Meyers is sleeping with a young intern (Evan Rachael Wood) who has information that could jeopardise the integrity of the governor for good.
Integrity is the issue that is most discussed in this intelligent and complex drama. How much of it you are willing to sacrifice in order to preserve some part of it is the question Meyers seems to be asking himself constantly throughout the film. As he develops from hero to anti-hero, it becomes clear that in the game these people are playing the line between right and wrong becomes blurred with the line between power and weakness.
Philip Seymour Hoffman manages to outshine everyone as experienced head campaigner Paul Zara. He gives perhaps the performance most deserving of an Oscar. But Ryan Gosling must not be overlooked. All of his turns in his three key movies this year – Crazy, Stupid, Love, Drive and The Ides of March – have been exceptional, but this is perhaps his most likable and human performance of them all. He is a man with morals, and when those morals are damaged he becomes a dangerous weapon. It’s a thrilling development to watch.
Best of all, the script, which is adapted from Beau Willimon’s stage play Farragut North, does not outrageously seek to favour one political party over another. It doesn’t set about to undermine our faith in left-wing views, nor is it intent on narrow-mindedly demonising more conservative ideas. Instead, it makes it clear that whatever team you support, and for whichever side you play, there is no such thing as simple, clean politics – not in the world we live in today. George Clooney’s film Good Night and Good Luck was guilty of a heavily manipulated political and historical view of the McCarthy witchhunt. Thankfully, The Ides of March doesn’t go down that route. It’s a film that will probably resonate with everyone that has, at some point in their lives, felt disenchanted or disappointed with the party they voted for.
Finally, I would like to sing the praises once again of composer Alexandre Desplat. This film is one of seven scores he has written this year, and he is fast becoming the new master of the orchestral soundtrack. His pieces have a subtle, haunting quality that never quite leaves you. He was a very apt choice of composer for this film.
The Ides of March (2011), directed by George Clooney, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment One Distribution, certificate 15.