Film Review: The Ides of March

Theatre and film critic Alex Radzyner analyses the latest Hollywood political offering starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling.

The Ides of March, in cinemas now
Alex Radzyner
On 4 November 2011 16:38

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is a campaign manager for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), an aspiring US presidential candidate fighting the Democratic primary election in the crucial State of Ohio. Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Morris´ trusted friend and Campaign Director has brought the talented Meyers on board.

His forte is handling the media aspects of the campaign. Meyers is a smooth operator and a realist; but he is also personally convinced that Morris' will make a great US President for the Democrats who'll be able to advance a liberal agenda. Morris' opponent, Senator Pullman, is a right-wing Democrat, whose campaign director Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) is experienced, clever and ruthless.

As a high stakes strategic game develops between the two campaign management teams, the heady mix of adrenalin and testosterone, of alpha males and attractive power-struck interns, of sex and politics unfolds. The resulting fatal attraction will raise the question of character of the candidate and his political advisers. Meyers will find out the hard way what it means to be a key-player on the sharp end of a primary campaign. And soon he will have to decide.

Should he abandon the chance to influence US policy at the highest level in order to avoid fighting dirty, or should he break his “ethics-barrier” in order to come out on top? 

The title of the film refers to the story of Julius Caesar. In the Ides of March (15 March) of the year 44 B.C. a number of senators, former supporters of Julius Caesar, including his quasi-adopted son Brutus, carry out their conspiracy to end his political career by murdering him. 

Based on the theatre play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, The Ides of March is an intelligent political drama with real suspense. The plot is straight-forward and some of its twists and turns too predictable to make this a truly outstanding film. Still it is realistic enough. and there is a good deal of substance in the storyline. 

The ethical issues raised here are good food for thought and discussion. The Ides of March is certainly worthy of George Clooney and on the level of excellent political drama of a film like Primary Colors or a television series like The West Wing. This gripping thriller is a must for those interested in the US politics. Competent direction complements very strong performances by an ensemble of outstanding actors. 

The charismatic Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine, Drive) confirms that he is an excellent actor, suitable for a wide range of roles. Quite an achievement for a young man sharing the screen with the likes of George Clooney, Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Paul Giamatti

The rating system of my reviews has changed to allocate points out of 10, rather than the five stars used previously, to be more informative on the rating. (0 is the worst possible rating and 10 is the best) This one gets a solid 7.

Alex Radzyner writes the London Theater Goer blog.

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