Reviews

'The Ides of March' Is an Old Story, Retold Again

In The Ides of March, Stephen's instruction is embodied, very literally, by a pretty young intern, a plot point who literally walks into frame carrying coffee.


The Ides of March

Director: George Clooney
Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle, Gregory Itzin
Rated: R
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-10-28 (General release)
Website
Trailer
Who is it in the press that calls on me?

-- Caesar, Julius Caesar

"I love Paul," sighs Ida Horowitz (Marisa Tomei), as she watches him (Philip Seymour Hoffman) shuffle from their table to the restaurant restroom. Stephen (Ryan Gosling), the guy she's talking to, smiles. "Because he gives you scoops." Ida smiles back, sort of. "You really buy this crap," she assesses, "all this take back the country shit."

Stephen is working with Paul on the campaign of a Democratic governor who's trying to be president. As The Ides of March begins, they're in the midst of the long haul of primaries, dining with Ida because she's a New York Times reporter. Maybe too because she is friends with Paul: they've known each other for years, having worked on many campaigns, managing or covering many aspiring politicians. Her veteran status is awkwardly underlined in her appraisal of Stephen. Of course he's drinking the Kool-Aid, that's what new campaigners do, before they become old. Her surprise looks disingenuous: hasn't she seen this before?

Stephen will learn a lesson, of course, as have so many other similar young men in similar movies. His trajectory resembles those in movies ranging from All the King's Men (either the 1949 version or the Sean Penn) and A Face in the Crowd to The Candidate and The War Room. Kids come in believing the "crap" and by the end, they don't. Or rather, they see more clearly how it's manufactured and how the system keeps on churning no matter who says, does or owes what to whom. In this case, Ida's articulation of the problem is especially redundant, as the movie's very first moments have revealed Stephen rehearsing his candidate's stump speech during a sound check: "I am not a Christian. I am not an atheist, I am not Jewish," he recites, "My religion is written on a piece of paper called the Constitution." He's in shadow and then in light, he's aware of the show. What he believes at this point is less that his man, Mike Morris (George Clooney, who also directs) is good than that he -- Stephen -- is good at putting on the show.

Stephen's belief will be confirmed in The Ides of March. How that happens is not a little bit conventional. Based on Beau Willimon's play, Farragut North, the movie not only restates that the take back the country shit is just that, no matter who says it. It also uses girls -- rather brutally -- to illustrate the young man's education. And so, Stephen will not only learn that, in fact, Ida is right (her warning and her name so helpfully Shakespearean), but also that his belief -- in his skill, commitment or candidate -- is that crap.

If this end is predictable, the story's machinations are more so. Stephen's instruction is embodied, very literally, by a pretty young intern, a plot point who literally walks into frame carrying coffee. Wearing boots and a wool skirt, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) appears at first to be even more earnest and idealistic than Stephen. Come to find out that she knows at least a little about the business they're in, if only by osmosis, her father (Gregory Itzin) being the DNC chair. This makes her both more and less delectable for the boys who lose track of moral boundaries on the campaign trail. When she begins to lie about her age and then to seduce Stephen in a dark bar after work, well, that loss is not only confirmed but normalized. She wants it, he's only reacting.

This will be the story going forward for Stephen. The next morning he suggests to Molly that she not disclose their night's activities and she agrees. The movie never considers how she sees her part in this agreement, except to note her mild displeasure in a glance and a brief remark. It's focused incessantly on Stephen's reacting to other desires expressed by others (mostly men, and oh yes, Ida too). When Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), manager of Morris' primary opponent's campaign, wants a meeting, Stephen goes along, doesn’t quite tell Paul about it until it's too late, and then stumbles into a rats' nest of consequences. These plot turns -- essentially, questions of who betrays whom when and how -- are intertwined with a few more involving Molly, and soon enough, Stephen is not only disillusioned (first reaction), but also rather brilliant at manipulating to get what he thinks he wants (second reaction).

Ida's observation at the film's start is thus revisited more than once. The players are convincing, the intrigues are increasingly complicated, especially as you're seeing them from Stephen's perspective. But if you step outside (a position not especially evident in the film), that perspective looks not only dramatically limited, but also awfully familiar. As he cuts a deal with a cunning senator (Jeffrey Wright) or makes threats against villains he hasn't anticipated, Stephen's manipulations are increasingly predictable. It may be compelling to wonder whether he's motivated by pain or grief or loss (or revenge, as Tom Duffy guesses).

But such details -- exquisitely intimated and not spelled out by Gosling's very fine performance -- are overwhelmed by the film's broader scheme, that a young man's corruption -- or maybe more precisely, a young man's coming to see the corruption that's built into what he believes -- is occasioned by a young woman's body. This old-school melodrama undermines the movie's examination of politics as a business. What's most surprising in the end, is that Ida, introduced as a wily veteran, looks so clueless about what's happened. Or maybe that's not surprising either, as she's only another piece in the young man's plot.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.