The Ides of March

THE IDES OF MARCH. Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti. Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood. Directed and co-written by:George Clooney. Rated M. 101 minutes. Rated m (Frequent coarse language, mature themes and sex scene).

The Ides of March has a clever image on the poster advertising George Clooney’s new film about political realities in the US and elsewhere. A man’s face is shown half hidden behind the folded front page of Time magazine. The image on the cover is manipulated to look like the face of one man. But closer inspection reveals that the one face is really a composite of two men: George Clooney who plays Presidential candidate Mike Morris, and Ryan Gosling as his junior campaign manager, Stephen Meyers.

Based onthe Broadway play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, this image speaks volumes about The Ides of March, both its Shakespearean title and the film’s underlying theme of Machiavellian deceit and betrayal.

Ryan Gosling’s Stephen Meyers is 30 years old, optimistic about politics, and adept at putting words and ideas into the mouths of Democrat politicians, in this instance Mike Morris, who is a smilingly good-natured conviction politician, and the Governor of Pennsylvania.

Now a presidential candidate, Morris and his entourage are in Ohio, campaigning in the primary elections against fellow Democrat, Arkansas Senator Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell). Both men are competing for the support of Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), whose endorsement has the capacity to determine the outcome at both the primary and national election (‘Who wins Ohio wins the election’), and the task of securing Thompson’s support for Morris lies with the his seasoned senior campaign manager, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote, Doubt).

Things begin to unravel for Stephen when he unwisely meets with Pullman’s wily campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, Barney’s Version), and begins an affair with an ambitious youngintern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood, Mildred Pierce). Both encounters set in train events which threaten to derail not only Morris’ push for the White House, but Meyer’s short but brilliant career.

There are moments of déjà vu in The Ides of March. Much of the insight into the workings of politics we’ve seen before, from Advise and Consent, and Wag the Dog and W. to episodes from The West Wing. There are times too, when an alternate title might well have been Much Ado About Nothing. But like his tactic in Syriana, Clooney uses longueurs to build momentum to the sobering wallop he packs at the end, aknife in the back to any lingering hopes that politics can bring out the best in human nature.

In the sense that the film’s message is deeply disillusioning, The Ides of a March is a Phyrric victory for Clooney, the political activist. Nonetheless, his performance as Morris is masterly and chilling, and this is counter-pointed perfectly by Gosling (The Pretender, Drive) as Meyers, whose baptism of fire should prove salutary to newbies. All the cast is convincing, but Marisa Tomei is particularly memorable as Ida, a shamelessly opportunistic New York Times journalist.

Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.