The Ides of March is a different side of Clooney. In this film, which he also directed, he plays a State Governor and a (hopeful) presidential candidate on his path to become the President of the United States. If you knew this walking into the theater, you were prepared for a less-lovable-but-more-respectable Clooney.
Which he is. Shown through the eyes of Stephen Meyers, a senior staffer on his campaign played by Ryan Gosling, Clooney's Mike Morris is the voice and face America needs, and you as the audience believe it.
The title "The Ides of March" refers technically to the 15th of March, the day the public is to vote for Clooney's character. But the metaphorical (and not that cryptic) reference is to the day when Julius Caesar, the political leader of ancient Rome, was assassinated by those most trusted by him in a literal "backstabbing". These conspirators believed he was becoming too big, not just as a man, but as a symbol and a leader. While Clooney's Mike Morris isn't exactly Caesar (yet), Gosling's Stephen Meyers surely goes through his Brutus phase. Eventually, it's the film's climax that really brings out the rivalry between the two, and shows what would go down if history was to repeat itself in today's world.
Politics in America, in reality, isn't fast-paced. There aren't as many scandals as you'd hope for. Fictional politics is the all we get to live our scandalous fantasies through. But what The Ides of March gets right is the paranoia, the backstabbing, the loyalty, and the no-one-to-trust aspects of fictional politics.
Perhaps what's so shocking in this film is the impending doom of the audience's likability of Clooney's Mike Morris. We want to like him, we really do, and he makes it easy to with his speeches and idealism and practical approach to solving worldwide and domestic issues. So even when we learn that he is no better than all the others, the only reason we choose to dislike him is because we wouldn't want the President of the most powerful nation in the world to be this ruthless, publicly.
That's what so great about this film: the behind the scenes are so real - so "please-no-let-that-not-be-the-body-of-the-intern-who-slept-with-the-next-president" (spoiler alert, btw) - that we cringe at the thought of wanting to know if this is how the real world politics is like too.
Being a giant fan of The West Wing, my loyalty wasn't questioned when I saw this film. The characters played by Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, two rival political managers, are possibly the the closest yet caffeinated-versions of characters from The West Wing. But it's too hard to compete with a 7 year long and 154 hour long tv series with just a 101 minute film. So I'm glad they didn't. Clooney's team and cast held their own, and delivered a top notch thriller that I'm going to label as 2011's The Social Network of Politics.
Also, this film had great and tense music that really kept you at the edge of your seat. It wasn't as great as The Social Network soundtrack, but... actually I need to stop comparing the two. Great music, period.
Author's Note I: Another similarity between The Ides of March and The Social Network: both films use and misuse their women characters to drive and crash their characters' motivations. Women characters in films have long been known to set the spark that jump-starts the plot, and this film is no different. Also, quick trivia, The West Wing was created by master of TV Aaron Sorkin, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Social Network.
Author's Note II: This is Ryan Gosling's year. This is his third film (previous: Crazy Stupid Love and Drive) and third hit this year. He's the next DeCaprio and quickly catching up.
This film has just been added to our blog's "Best of 2011" Category. Keep a look out for more additions.