“In politics, loyalty is the only currency we have,” or so we are told by a high-powered campaign manager overseeing the Democratic primary race for President of the United States in The Ides of March. This film is an occasionally thrilling, well-paced drama that hits many of the right notes, but unfortunately disappoints in a few key aspects. Loyalties are tested, reputations are tarnished, and lives are changed in the game of politics, and this film revels in the drama of all the key players in a process that, in our democratic country, occurs every four years. From an audience’s point-of-view, The Ides of March is an entertaining piece of political fiction that does not bore, but ultimately packs much less of a punch than one would hope.
The movie tells the story of Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), the young, hotshot press secretary running the media campaign for the Democratic Party’s Presidential frontrunner, Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney, who also directs the film). Stephen is ambitious, calm, suave, and cutthroat, doing whatever is necessary in these final days of the primary to win Ohio, the most important swing state that will make or break the race. To give any more plot details would be to spoil the story, though it is safe to say political scandal, secrets, backstabbing, and media leaks are all involved.
What really succeeds in this film is the top-notch acting from the cast, who bring sizzling performances to the screen and elevate the sparse script to much more entertaining heights than it deserves. Aside from Gosling, the best performance in the film comes from Evan Rachel Wood as Molly Stearns, the flighty campaign intern who becomes more pivotal to each person’s future than any of them could have imagined. Wood plays Molly with a sly charm that suggests there is much more to her story than we at first find out.
As far as the other actors go, Clooney has surprisingly little screen time, considering his character, but we are given Oscar favorites Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei, and Paul Giamatti in key roles throughout the film, each actor chewing through their scenes with fierce, ruthless determination.
Though the story is often ho-hum and clichéd, that is no fault of these fine actors. The real problem with this film, then, is a paradox. Unfortunately, the writing is not worthy of this talent, with a script that drags and characters highly underdeveloped and two-dimensional. The hardnosed journalist. The shady manager. The politician with something to hide. The list just goes on.
Overall, The Ides of March is an interesting film. As a commentary on the ruthless, cyclical ways of modern politics, it is not as important as it thinks itself to be. And as a character study on how far people will bend when loyalties shift and trust is tested, it also underwhelms.
Clooney’s direction is fast-paced, but by the time the film ends, we are left with an unsatisfying ending and we’ve been tricked into thinking more happened in the film than really did. After all, less than a week actually passes over the 100-minute running time. Though the acting is superb, I really wish that March had been something more for me to enjoy. My loyalty just isn’t all there.
I give The Ides of March a rating of 3 out of 5.