The Ides of March

For the political-minded, the biggest enemy of democracy is apathy. The clear unpartisan message of the last decade is urging young citizens to vote. Campaign managers and political leaders wring their hands over the indifference of a large section of the electorate, while governments struggle to streamline the voting process to make it as simple and convenient as possible in an effort to increase voter turnout. These efforts are merely a band-aid or smoke screen that do little to address why our citizens, and especially our youth, are apathetic. While The Ides of March might not provide solutions to the problem, it certainly provides an explanation for it.

Idealistic campaign press secretary Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) has found the rarest thing in politics: a candidate – Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) – he actually believes in. Morris embodies the perfect political hopeful – he’s resolute to run a clean campaign without mud-slinging attack ads, will not compromise his values to negotiate an important endorsement from a senator (Jeffrey Wright), and genuinely wants America to reclaim its status as a world leader by cutting its dependency on foreign oil and focusing on renewable energy sources. Myers is convinced that if Morris makes it to the Oval Office, the country will be changed for the better.

Of course, nothing in politics is ever that simple, or at least, that’s what The Ides of March would have us believe. Myers is asked to meet with the campaign manager for the other side (Paul Giamatti) who asks him to do the unthinkable: switch sides and work for the other candidate. That’s where things start to unravel, and Myers sees the real – dirty – side of politics.

One of the difficulties I’ve always had while watching political movies is getting involved in the stakes of the action. The scenes of political insiders agonizing over a drop in the polls always seems inconsequential and less than thrilling. And then when these films introduce a political “fixer” – generally an interchangeable term for “hit-man” – to up the entertainment factor, things just become preposterous. The Ides of March is able to handle this problem well – never getting too bogged down in the banal details of how the primaries work while maintaining believability (with thrills!) in a realistic fashion.

Though I may be outing myself as moviegoer of less than average intelligence, the impact of two pivotal sequences in the film were lessened when I didn’t understand exactly who the characters were talking about, or what was happening. The first sequence has to do with a revelation about George Clooney’s character. Throughout most of the film (to my recollection) he’s referred to as Mike Morris, or Morris. However, in this pivotal scene, Gosling refers to him as the Governor. Not Governor Morris. Not Mike. Just “Governor.” It pains me to admit it, but I didn’t know exactly who Gosling was referring to (is this a character we haven’t been introduced to yet? Is this the guy who they’re trying to get the endorsement from?). Unfortunately, the surprise of the scene was lost on me.

Another sequence that seemed similarly glossed over – yet pivotal – to the film is when Gosling (apparently) loses his cell phone. I say apparently because there’s a scene where he picks up a cell phone from a hotel room and then listens to all the voice messages he missed. Once again, I have no recollection of the film ever presenting the information to the audience that Gosling lost his cell phone or why he discovers it in a hotel room. Eh, what can you do.

The Ides of March doesn’t break any new ground in the political thriller genre. The twists are about what you’d expect, and the lesson is pretty much the same (politics is a soul-sucking and vindictive venture). As for my predictions – I still think this could be nominated for Best Picture. But it ain’t gonna win.

Grade: B-

Sidenote: As for why the film may explain the apathy of democratic societies, look at the political films we have that feature idealistic and young individuals who love the political process. These are the people who vote with pride in every election, get out and volunteer for a political candidate, and end up (in the movies) broken and soulless by cynicism. If only we had electronic voting, that would sure fix things…

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2 Responses to The Ides of March

  1. Pingback: manonmona

  2. Julia Turnbull says:

    Fabulous review – hope you always remember to vote, though!! It is your civic duty!

    Happy Thanksgiving – you will be missed!!

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