Not since A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum have I enjoyed a movie that was based on the farce of politics. As with the previous movie, The Ides of March focuses on backstabbing in politics…well, figurative backstabbing.
The basic plot of the movie reads like this: A young, faithful campaign manager (Ryan Gosling) gets a crash-course in ethics, dirty-politics and what it takes to succeed in politics after he learns the truth about his idol (George Clooney). That is all I want to tell you because the plot unfolding with the help of an amazing support cast is part of what makes this movie excellent.
The pace never slows, which is not to assume that this is an action packed thrill-ride. There is a slow build as you learn just enough about the key players to genuinely like all of them — the idealistic young staff members, the honest candidate, the logical campaign managers. When secrets start coming out and you realize that no one is what they appear to be, it is such a well woven web you cannot help but get caught in it. I have to give some credit to George Clooney on this one because he directed this film and helped fine-tune the final dialogue enough to get a screenwriter credit. Well played, Clooney.
Let’s talk about the amazing cast for just one second. Okay, well, five seconds because there are a lot to talk about.
Ryan Gosling is so much more than I ever gave him credit for. After nearly throwing up at the schmaltz of The Notebook it is wonderful to see him become better than the usual pretty-boys. He is perfect for this role — just doe-eyed enough to sell innocence without coming across as naive. As he discovers just what it takes to be in politics, it is brilliant watching him unravel.
George Clooney is his usual charismatic self. He makes me wish he would actually run for office, with those emotive eyes and that salt-and-pepper hair. Perfect. Love him.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays the senior campaign strategist. Everything this actor touches turns to gold and roses. Well, I may be overselling him a bit. He adds that obvious skeevy quality one would expect from a used car salesman, but you would still get drinks with him. That takes talent.
Paul Giamati is the campaign manager for the opposition. He is also amazing. I am frankly running out of adjectives. Even though his is not a main player, Giamati’s character tried to educate Gosling on his slippery path with politics.
Evan Rachel Wood is a young University staffer who follows the campaign because she truly believes. With her “fuck me” eyes and stupidity (“oops, I dated Marilyn Manson”) she can play vulnerable surprisingly well.
Last but not least, Marisa Tomei is the snoopy reporter who cannot wait for the wonderful Clooney to slip up. A little conniving, a lot smarter than she looks.
Okay, well, the descriptions came across more as acting notes from a director, but still. This is a very well constructed and well acted movie. Part of me hopes that secret backroom dealings in this film are based on reality…then another part of me is grossed out to think that those dealings are reality.