I would describe this film, first and foremost, as enlightening. I’d never known that when US presidential candidates run for campaigns they hire a whole team to work on their campaigns, nor that there are people whose jobs are to run campaigns for candidates. I suppose it’s ludicrous to imagine one man running such a huge operation all by himself, but funnily enough that was what I’d always thought. So I found The Ides of March enlightening in that it showed me how much work goes on behind the scenes, and how much funds the candidates need to pump in. It’s stressful, tiring, soul-sucking, money-draining work. But when the prize is presidency…
I’d describe myself as politically apathetic at best, but every time the US campaigning season kicks in, it’s impossible not to feel at least a little infected by the buzz. I’ve always felt a secret envy for the crowds who at these campaigns: how great it must be to feel so strongly for a cause, and have a figure one can rally behind to prop up as the poster boy of a movement one believes in. The Ides of March has really stoked my interest in US politics, but perhaps the greatest lesson I took away from the film was an understanding of what my dad, and so many others, really meant when he said politics was filthy.
Cutting to the chase, you should know up-front that this isn’t a happy tale. It is a story of idealism being eroded by ambition, of an idealistic man being worn down into a cynical, jaded player, all in the space of a week, of a refreshingly principled candidate being unveiled as “just another politician”. It’s not so much heart-breaking as terrifying, and not so much tragic as chilling. It’s not so much a psychological tale of human nature spiralling into its darkest depths, as it is a story of idealism giving way to world-weary realism. It’s scary in its bleak ending, and in that it’s so, so real.
I like the way Clooney directs. He doesn’t have a distinct visual style or a marked quirkiness to his films like Tarantino; The Ides of March feels that it could have been directed by any capable director. I’ve heard it said that Clooney’s films as a unit have a very distinct flavor, but that remains to be seen.
Clooney as director seems attracted to stories about smart men under pressure (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”). He draws back from action and plunges into intrigue.
– Roger Ebert
What I like about the directing is the very simple, textbook style. I hesitate to call it pedestrian, because the film displays a rather remarkable eye for detail and angles, but it is precisely that feel – that it could have been directed by any capable director – that is its greatest attribute. There’s no quirkiness that could throw the viewer off; it is very accessible and easily consumed by a wide audience, yet it retains an intelligence and sensitivity.
The script is one of the best I’ve come across. From start to finish, it seems The Ides of March displays an inability to say anything ineloquent. It simply cannot get a word wrong. And when it’s carried by such an accomplished cast – from Ryan Gosling to the wonderfully versatile Philip Seymour Hoffman to Clooney himself – it absolutely crackles off the screen.
Governor Morris: Yeah I said it all here, “It’s going to help people get an education, it’s going to create national unity, it’s going to teach young people a trade, and it’s going to help get people out of debt from college loans. Tell me where that fails.
Stephen: All of that is exactly right. Governor if you’re going to do it, then do it. Don’t make it voluntary, [make it] mandatory.
Morris: That’ll poll well.
Stephen: Mandatory! Everyone who graduates high school or turns eighteen, gives two years to his or her country. Military, peace corps, plant fucking trees, I don’t care. And for that, their college education is paid for, period.
Morris: We do all of that now, with this.
Stephen: No sir you don’t do it all, all the way. Mandatory. And here’s the beauty of it: everyone who is older than eighteen and past the age of eligibility, would be for it – create national pride, give all the kids an education.
Morris: And all the others?
Stephen: Can’t vote. Too young.
It’s also a very atmospheric film, with very heavy, dark sceneries complementing the steadily bleaker tone of the film. The font – thin, white, very squarish letters, all sharp corners and rectangular edges – employed in the opening scenes harkens back to movies of the early 90s.
The film has been described as a thriller, but if it is to be seen as one, it’s a slow burn of a thriller. You feel Stephen’s increasing paranoia, and you begin to get suspicious of every character around him. But I’d describe the film more as unsettling than thrilling.
[SPOILER] A minor nark I have is regarding Molly’s death. I really didn’t understand why she killed herself, and for a while I was holding out for it to be uncovered as foul play. I understand from IMDb that she was terrified of being used by Stephen as a pawn in getting his revenge, but considering she’s not the one who had the most to lose if the truth got out, I felt suicide was a very extreme choice to make, even for a movie character. It came across more as a means to show truly how amoral Stephen had become by the movie’s end, when he used her death to threaten Morris. [/SPOILER]
I only have two questions unanswered by the end of the film, which has nothing to do with the film itself.
- How does one pronounce ‘ides’?
- What does this job entail, that lets you work in a “nice consultant firm right off of K Street. A million a year and nobody to fuck you over.”
Rating on Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Rating on IMDb: 7.2
Viewing history: Seen 1x. DVD rental.