George Clooney takes his political sensibilities to the big screen again with The Ides of March, and, whilst he is not the star (that honour is given to the excellent Ryan Gosling), it is clear that Clooney is attempting to make something of a bold statement concerning political infighting and the dirty quest for power over integrity.
Instead of opting for the most obvious of political battle arenas, the Presidential elections, Clooney takes something of a more low-key approach and sets his stage during the Ohio state primary where his senator, Mike Morris, is fighting for his place as the Democratic candidate for the upcoming Presidential election. Ryan Gosling is Stephen Meyers, Clooney’s media savvy spin doctor whose job is to ensure the campaign runs smoothly. However, when he receives a call from his counterpart in the rival’s camp (Paul Giamatti), he is introduced to a whole new ball game of infighting and mudslinging that may not only scupper the campaign but create a scandal that could ruin the lives of those involved.
It’s an interesting take. In using the smaller scale of the state primary, Clooney has effectively turned the primary into a gladiatorial battle yet it’s easy to overlook that both senators are Democrats who, ultimately, share a similar ideal for the running of their country. It’s intriguing then, and a little disquieting, to see how far those behind the scenes are willing to go in order to ensure success.
Whilst much of what takes place needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, it isn’t uncommon to hear of a scandal in the same vein as that which takes place here. Without delving into specifics, it quickly becomes apparent that those we think we have sussed are not who they appear and whilst Gosling, the unwitting scapegoat, gets embroiled deeper than he initially suspected, he eventually utilises the dirty tactics he swore the campaign would never resort to.
Political thrillers tend to be something of a non-event as the public in general are naturally weary of politicians and their schpiel, resulting in The Ides of March being somewhat overlooked by film-goers. It’s a shame as Clooney has crafted a terrific film that elevates itself above its contemporaries with an earnest undercurrent. It’s sincere in its approach; there are no gun fights or explosions, the tactics used by the key players in the bid to win are frighteningly believable. It also helps that the cast (including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel Evan Wood and Marisa Tomei) are all excellent, becoming their characters to the extent of making the seediness of the infighting all the more palpable.
It may wear its intentions on its sleeve, but The Ides of March is deceptively powerful. Similar in tone to Michael Clayton, this is precise film making aimed for a mature, politically savvy audience. It will alienate those looking for blockbuster fun but this is a thinking man’s thriller where the ultimate weapon is one’s ability to outsmart the opponent.