The Ides of March – A Study In Back Stabbing

by ryankl

Goddamn, this movie is wickedly smart.

Clooney has put together an ode to the 70s political thriller. This flick is as sharp as the knives that stab backs every day. Especially in politics. As far as political thrillers go, this one is a grainy shot noir with far too much daylight and just the right amount of character actors.

We open on Clooney as Mike Morris on the run for the highest office in America. He’s got the sort of buzz we most recently saw with Barack Obama. He’s the next great hope of truth and change in a stagnant pool of lies and static policy. He’s everything we want him to be, which of course means he probably isn’t the product were being sold in record amounts. But that comes later. For the intro, we get plenty of ClooneyPolicy which is definitely enough to make you think, if not necessarily agree with every step of his plan. You could be forgiven for thinking this is Clooney’s audition for office. Though, to be honest, his policy will reach more people (and people of the future) through the cineplex than it would through actual politics. Bravo to Clooney for being so subversive in propagating his vision of the future.

Beneath Clooney is Ryan Gosling’s Stephen Meyers. The superstar campaigner who knows exactly what to do in every situation. The charisma of this role is effortlessly conveyed by Gosling (an actor I just can’t bring myself to call The Goose, though he certainly is golden). Gents, you will love Gosling in this role. You will also feel for him because the destructive narrative is mostly set into effect by two of his actions.

These two actions, basically Gosling meeting with two different people, kickstarts a series of perforated backs and devious machinations that you expect to be behind the scenes of every political campaign and love to find out about afterwards. Part of this is Gosling’s fault, some of it was just stupid chance and poor decision work.

Two small yet crucial roles are portrayed to seedy and worldweary perfection by Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. There is a reason these guys get the best character roles and headline the best indie flicks – they know their game and are so diversely and consistently reliable that you are almost guaranteed a slice of genius in your film. Both men are old school campaigners, guys who have seen it all, know all the tricks, and Gosling should have known to still pay his respects and play it clean. He’s good, one of the best, but that’s just of the new class. The old class, guys who graduated through soupy decades of politics, would always have ways of schooling the young pups who represent the downfall of the old guard.

Gosling becomes connected to a young campaign intern. That word alone, intern, holds so much negative political cache now, and this isn’t any different. The snappy banter of the politicos volleying back and forth gives way to the scenes Gosling and Evan Rachel Wood share. The pacing drops to an afternoon canter and the camera is suddenly close to let us know this is personal. We aren’t after sexuality here, or the romantic lure of flirtation. The scenes capturing this connection show you Gosling letting his guard down. This is his downfall, actually being human for a succession of moments.

The narrative drive of this flick is tight. It’s only 100 minutes and everything rockets by effectively because not a single scene is superfluous. The entire movie is a series of building blocks that entertain on their own but build to a cohesive whole. More stories should work this way. There isn’t a big action piece or a filibuster because the genre demands it. Every word is meant, needed, enjoyed. Characters are all introduced effortlessly, the complication is pretty easily dropped in, and the conclusion will provide a great discussion on the drive home.

For my money, I think the hint to knowing what Gosling does at the end is in his last words before going in front of the camera. He tells Ida, “You know you’re my best friend.” The press is his friend, and he’s about to make it work for him. What would come after those actions I don’t know, and I’d like to think the poster holds a strong clue toward that.

Aside from the slick narrative, the superb acting, and the delightful script, you will watch this movie again because it is so damn well made. The simple cinematography evokes the 70s in a way that replicates and doesn’t just homage. Clooney isn’t making a pastiche of cliches, he is crafting a masterpiece simply using techniques and skills from decades ago. This movie could have come from a Hollywood brat and yet none of them possess the skill to pull this off right now. They are in different stages of their careers while Clooney is still hungry for it.

Clooney might just be one of the most influential filmmakers right now, while never really influencing the box office or public trends at all. No one is going to write about Michael Bay; I’d gladly read all about how Clooney puts these gems together.

There really isn’t anying wrong with this movie. You could pick a few slight holes but you’d mostly just be an ass for trying. Some of the progressions in the plot of Wood are a little quickly pushed but I’d prefer that brevity which then correlates to speed of the main plot. Watching Gosling crest the wave and then get dumped only to have his infected corpse poison the town’s water supply is the sort of hour and a half I can always find time for.

The Ides of March is an absolute must see. It’s a smart flick that wants you to think about what’s going on as well as apply it to your actual world. This might be fiction but the meaning of it is all too real. Watch this flick, be entertained, and learn about the world. There is no greater cinematic treat to enjoy.

Buy a ticket, sit down in the cinema, and feel like you just went back to the paranoid 70s where flicks showed the worst in the world and inspired you to do your best.