The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Ides of March
Yes we can? Ryan Gosling in The Ides of March.

Movies about politics tend to fall into one of two categories: celebrations of idealism in an overly partisan world (Swing Vote, The American President), or cynical examinations of the whole political scene. The Ides of March falls into the second category. It was directed and co-written by George Clooney, an actor who has been very politically outspoken in the past. Not surprisingly, he has much to say with this film. While he may be guilty of trying to say everything that's on his mind in only 102 minutes, he nevertheless delivers a reasonably entertaining drama that holds your attention, even if it doesn't tell you anything new.

Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, a young press secretary for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). Stephen is idealistic; so idealistic, in fact, that when he's wooed by Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the campaign manager for a rival Democrat hoping to secure the party's Presidential nomination, he refuses, believing his boss is simply the better candidate. The fact that he even took a meeting with Duffy in the first place opens a door through which big problems enter. They involve a pretty young intern (Evan Rachel Wood) and a reporter (Marisa Tomei) with a nose for a scoop. Suddenly, Stephen's idealism is put to the test.

I've been intentionally vague on plot details because, while by no means dependent upon a major surprise, The Ides of March does go in some directions you may not anticipate, which is part of its appeal. The film suggests that scandal lurks everywhere in politics, and it only takes a trivial act to set off a confluence of events that brings it to the surface. We watch Stephen Myers go from an almost naively idealistic person to someone who begrudgingly has to admit that idealism realistically has no place in a process that, by its very nature, requires bargaining and negotiating. Clooney's film laments that fact, as well as the sad truth that so many politicians run on a platform of idealism while not always adhering to the values they proclaim to hold. In other words, folks say what they have to say to win. That cynical nature appealed to me. Maybe it's because I'm just generally cynical about politics, or maybe it's because it just makes for good drama. Either way, the movie tells an interesting story with all-too-realistic plot twists that continually up the ante for the lead character.

The performances are every bit as good as you'd think they would be. Clooney has assembled a stellar cast, with each actor – no matter how large or small their role – doing accomplished character-based work. I think Gosling was a great choice for Stephen. He is, in many respects, a minimalist actor, not prone to grand gestures. Because of this, we observe him closely, and he allows us to see inside his character's mind as he navigates a treacherous situation. Gosling has some terrific scenes with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Morris's own campaign manager, Paul Zara. Paul tries to convince Stephen to be realistic, to accept that machinations and manipulations – such as offering an influential Senator (Jeffrey Wright) a high-level position in exchange for his endorsement – are not so much a betrayal of one's values, but rather a means to an end. The interplay between Gosling and Hoffman is excellent in these scenes. Evan Rachel Wood is also quite good, as a young woman with her own brand of idealism, while Clooney brings an Obama-like charisma to the role of Governor Morris. (Maybe the actor should run for office.)

While The Ides of March nicely puts political strategizing under a microscope, it also suffers slightly from being a little too talky in spots. The story's origins as a stage play (“Farragut North” by Beau Willimon) are quite obvious at times. Characters have a propensity to give long soliloquies instead of just saying what they need to say. That occasionally slows down the pace of the plot.

On the other hand, at least this is a film with ideas it wants to convey. The Ides of March says that it's impossible to remain idealistic in a game that is fundamentally corrupt. Those who cling to their idealism are ultimately run over by those willing to bend (or break) the rules, or make the kinds of deals that result in decisive victories. In politics, winning is all that matters. By the end of The Ides of March, Stephen Myers knows that all too well. We know it going in, but watching him learn is still engaging enough to make the picture worth seeing.

( out of four)

The Ides of March is rated R for pervasive language. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.