The Ides of March (2011) is a media-hyped film starring heart throbs Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, Drive, Stupid Crazy Love) and decadent George Clooney. This political thriller has generated hype since the days it was being filmed last year. I recall walking around the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus, watching white tents shrouding the campus grounds as the news spread like wildfire. However, this film failed to impress for many reasons:
Scandals and Presidency
The film’s plot revolves around an idealist staffer (Gosling) who with his heart and soul supports and works for Morris’ (Clooney) campaign. Gosling becomes involved with another staff member and realizes the crudity of politics where his loyalty, relationships, and honor are tested as he tries to build a strong career for himself aiming for the presidency. A sex scandal rocks the tide of the film and the tension turns to the Clooney/Gosling relationship, ending on a solemn note as Gosling becomes a rising politician himself working for Morris.
While Stephen (Gosling) and Morris (Clooney) are able to carry the film forward, their talents are diminished with the lack of plot that the film is based on. After Stephen suffers a blow as he is fired, he ends up approaching his rivals for a job. When he is unable to receive that position, he scurries back to Morris, blackmailing him for the information he had conveniently found from the staff member he was intimately involved with. The story seems begs for a juicier plot, which would make the audience understand the complexities of both characters. Instead, the film seems rushed as if it is fearing to solve the unsolvable riddle of politics.
Stephen turns from idealist to cynic after he becomes fired. As an audience, you want to know the drive behind Gosling’s sudden change, but the film’s abrupt ending leaves you to wonder what happened next. Is there going to be a sequel? Stephen could have been handled with more depth than the film showed. He is a young campaign manager who is living the high life, but dedicated to his cause and willing to sacrifice everything he has for his campaign. However, that is all you learn about him. Morris is a politician fighting for the democratic elections with a hidden past, for which he is willing to pay any price to conceal.
Politics and Films
Let’s be honest: trying to generate interest in a film based on elections is a hard task for a filmmaker. It is a touchy topic and needs to have a strong plot in order to become a powerful film. Politics and films, in my opinion, have a love-hate relationship. If done well, the film becomes Oscar worthy for its ability to use political wit, which is as sharp as a sword — something akin to Shakespeare’s political plays. If not properly handled, the film becomes uninteresting. I can give numerous examples of successful films based on politics, which had a strong plot to accompany the theme of the film, but start with W (2008) and The American President (1995). The Ides of March lacked a strong plot to accompany the theme. As a viewer, I was left hungry for more. The ending of the film seemed abrupt, like an incomplete novel.
As an avid moviegoer, I do not recommend going to the theater for this film. Usually I am a proponent of a Gosling film, but this film is perhaps watchable on streaming on a night when there is nothing else to watch. It also does not do justice to the theme/message it has chosen to work with. Clooney as a producer and director needed to show a more psychological profile of both the rivals, but he barely touched the surface.