George Clooney‘s The Ides of March (Sony, 10.7) is a smart, taut political thriller — well-acted, gripping (particularly after the shit starts hitting the fan in Act Two) with a chilly, bitter edge. In a term, fully enjoyable. Plus it packs a stiffer, heavier punch than Beau Willimon‘s Farragut North, a 2008 political play that Clooney and Grant Heslov adapted for the screen, and in so doing added a third act involving sexual indiscretion.
Is Ides about us on some level? Does it reflect or shed light upon some universal current that we’ve all come to know and understand? No — it’s a high-end, thoroughly adult popcorn movie, and that’s totally fine. There’s nothing to bitch about or put down here. Well, you can but why? To what end?
The plot is about three shrewd political operatives (played by Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti) working for a pair of Democratic Presidential candidates during the Ohio primary. One of them is an (relatively) blunt-spoken liberal played by Clooney, called Mike Morris, and the other we never meet up close.
What is Ides basically saying? That big-time politics can be a rough snarly game, and that being dedicated and hard-working doesn’t mean jack — you can still get taken down if you don’t play your cards extra-carefully. And that the game basically stinks.
The piece starts to get interesting when Gosling’s Stephen, a young hotshot aide to Clooney, slipping into a semi-casual affair with Holly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood ), a 20 year-old who works for the Morris campaign as an intern. And then we learn that someone else has had it off with Holly…all right, I’m not saying any more. But is a little action on the side really shocking in a campaign environment? Or in the world of politics itself? Post-Anthony Weiner what’s so bad about a politician (or his campaign manager or whomever) having an affair or a one-nighter with a more-or-less willing participant? Sounds pretty tame to me.
One of the strongest lines in the film, spoken by Gosling, goes something like “you can go to war or ruin the economy or protect the rich, but you don’t get to fuck the interns.” But don’t you? I mean, isn’t that par for the course? And does anyone really care? I realize, of course, that some people do care, still, but I sure as hell don’t, and no one who’s been around does so, you know, let it go already.
The bottom line is that The Ides of March does the job of a good political thriller — it grabs and rivets and enthralls — and that’s fine with me. And it ought to be fine with everyone else. It’s worth the price of admission.