Review: The Ideas of March (2011)

The Ideas of March (2011)

Directed by: George Clooney | 101 minutes | drama | Actors: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Max Minghella, Jeffrey Wright, Danny Mooney, Lauren Mae Shafer, Wendy Aaron, Hayley Madison, Talia Akiva, Ewan Bourne, Abe Larkin

Piet Hein Donner, Minister of the Interior, recently argued in favor of curtailing the Government Information (Public Access) Act: ‘Laws are like sausages; you better not see how they are made.’ If there’s a lesson to be learned from “The Ides of March,” the latest movie directed by engaged movie star George Clooney, it’s that it works the same way with presidents.

No, it’s not the well-known flaming State of the Union speeches, beaming First Ladies in the Oval Office or shaking hands with other world leaders, but the way a politician becomes president of the United States: in the drab streets of Cincinatti , Ohio, in a crucial Democratic Party primary. The candidate in question is Hollywood’s political wet dream, Mike Morris (played by Clooney himself), the atheist idealist committed to sustainable energy and pacifism. The play on which the film is based, ‘Farragut North’, is based on Howard Dean’s attempts to become the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. Clooney’s role doesn’t have anything to do with Dean, but he plays the part with gusto, which will further fuel rumors that he also aspires to a job as a politician in real life.

But the real protagonists are the campaign workers, most notably Morris’s team’s charming boy wonder, Stephen Meyers (who else but Ryan Gosling?). The difference from Morris’s charismatic speeches could hardly be greater: he and the rest of the campaign team sit in dingy offices and are more often concerned with spinning statistics in their favor and vilifying the competition. And yes, if you do that job long enough, you’ll start to look like the scruffy, cynical old hand in the business, Meyers’ boss Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his major competitor Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, who is just like played a part at least ten times before).

When a sensual young intern arrives with an influential daddy, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), things get even more complicated. What follows is a political drama centered around the misadventures of ‘Yes Minister’ and a Shakespearean kingly drama. It is not without reason that the film title refers to the day of Julius Caesar’s murder. Opportunities turn like leaves in the wind and in the end almost every character ends up with the same dilemma: do I stay true to my ideals or do I climb the ladder? And then it’s just a battle between two candidates from the same political party; you can hardly imagine the battle between Democrats and Republicans.

How that works out is up to the reader’s discretion. What is beyond dispute, however, is how intriguingly this political struggle is presented. The complexity of the political business with daily polls, elections in several states, journalists and bloggers and clapping hands with half-shunted competitors becomes clear without it becoming inimitable for the Dutch viewer. Nevertheless, the cherries in the porridge are the scenes in the film that get to the heart of the matter without wisecracks or endless dialogues and digressions. A ringing telephone, fields of view that intersect; a short conversation that we can’t hear in the backseat of a car. In the spirit of the Hitchcock, and that is by no means an insult.

After Clooney’s directing for the not incomparable, very successful ‘Good Night and Good Luck’ from 2005, ‘The Ides of March’ proves that the film star is perfectly in place as a director. Reminiscent of “All the President’s Men” at times, in secret, shadowy encounters, the film features an excellent protagonist in Gosling who undergoes a Corleone-esque maturing process over the course of the film. The only blemish is perhaps that the melodrama is sometimes a bit over the top. But for those of you, the viewer, who can stand the fact that this will probably knock the last shred of hope in politics out of you, you can look forward to one of the best American political dramas of recent years.

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