‘The Ides of March’

Lindsay Adams

Rachel Wood as Molly and Ryan Gosling as Stephen.
Rachel Wood as Molly and Ryan Gosling as Stephen.

The Ides of March digs deep into America’s political campaign system, and justifies every citizen’s paranoia about the corruption and underhanded deals going on behind the politician’s smiling face on television.

The movie proves that politicians learn about manipulation from the best—their campaign managers.

Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays Paul Zara, the head presidential campaign manager for Governor Mike Morris, played by George Clooney. He is harsh, unlikable, and mouthy, and probably one of the more decent people in the film (although that is not saying much). Hoffman plays Zara with ferocious jaded fatigue and old-school sense of professionalism.

George Clooney as Governor Mike Morris starts the film with the perfect politician’s sheen, that slowly wears away as the film progresses, revealing the dull glow of corruption and contempt.

Ryan Gosling plays the supposedly idealistic young campaign manager-in-training, Stephen Meyers, who is working as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s second-in-command. He is on the fast-track to political fame, only to make a mistake that leads him to infamy. He soon proves to be as hypocritical as the rest of the cast of characters. He sells out his soul without a second thought, using information to bribe and claw his way up. He is able to continue working for a man that he knows has not a shred of the ethics he touts in front of millions.

Stephen expects a moral standard in others that he himself doesn’t adhere to in the least. He is a megalomaniacal charmer, who is so used to schmoozing his way into glory, that he cannot understand when he is unable to use his charisma to avoid the consequences of his own failings.

In the end we realize that all that really drives him is the need to be “the big man on campus”. His own idea of self-importance is what keeps him going. Ryan Gosling shows a brilliant spectrum of selfish ego, going from the man who has everything under control and can manipulate any situation to realizing, once it is too late, that he is a little boy in a man’s game.

His desperation is akin to madness, and the audience recognizes the true extent of Stephen’s own self-ignorance and entitlement.

Paul Giamatti plays Tom Duffy, the campaign manager for Mike Morris’s primary opponent. He is a bitter manager who is accustomed to playing with humans in the palm of his hand.

When the opportunity presents him with the chance to play with Stephen, he takes advantage of it.

Evan Rachel Wood as Molly Stearns is both pitiable and repulsive as the Lolita campaign intern who asks to be abused by the unethical men around her. Thanks to a terrifyingly human turn from Wood, while feeling distaste, one can’t fully detest her. She is a sad girl play-acting as a femme fatale, and reacting like a child would to her brutal reality check.

Stephen bluntly tells Molly that her political career is over, and a scene later is begging for a second chance as his own blunders catch up with him. His own reversal is mirrored in hers. But, as Zara puts it when Stephen is trying to justify his “mistake”, driving home a theme of the film, “You didn’t make a mistake, you made a choice.”

George Clooney proves he is just as adept behind the camera as in front, with yet another polished film under his direction. The film was punctuated with shots that punched the viewer in the gut, both brutal and aesthetically gorgeous.

While mimicking an Aristotelian sense of tragedy where one small mistake leads to enormous repercussions. “The Ides of March” allows the audience no catharsis or clear-cut message to walk away with. Instead, it shows us a way of life that we can either accept or attempt to fight.

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