George Clooney is obviously a man that loves politics. He campaigns for people, he makes stands on issues, and he loves to be on camera talking about the state of the world. However, he’s said he’ll never run for office, because he’s got too many skeletons in his closet.
So, he does the next best thing and plays a politician in a movie. He gets to make all his stump speeches, talk about his pet issues, state his slant on things, and not actually have to deal with his herd of former girlfriends writing tell-alls or travel outside of his Italian villa (once filming is over) to get his politics heard globally.
In that sense, Clooney has the best of both worlds when it comes to The Ides Of March and he doesn’t have to worry about people voting against him. This is a political flick from Clooney, and given that he writes, directs, and plays a major role in the proceedings, it’s a personal political statement for him.
However, he avoids the standard trap of making politicians into horribly flawed people or into moral crusaders. Clooney’s Governor Mike Morris is a moral crusader with horrible flaws, which is refreshing when you consider how the average movie politician is portrayed.
However, Clooney isn’t a major player in the film. The Ides Of March stars Ryan Gosling as Stephen Myers, a hotshot young campaign manager working with the more experienced Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) on the presidential campaign of one Mike Morris (Clooney). He’s the idealistic underdog candidate wrapped in a brutal primary campaign against the more experienced Senator Pullman and his skilled campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Myers, like most young people in politics, is an idealist who believes in the campaign he’s working on, unlike all the political lifers that surround him.
When a lovely young intern named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) gets into some trouble and Myers does the best for the campaign, he unwittingly stumbles into the kind of bitter back-room politics that can quickly turn an idealist into a cynic. Will this same fate befall Stephen? Is he too nice for politics?
The script, from Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon (who wrote the play the movie was based on), finds a nice balance. There’s some good tension and drama, and it manages to combine its political message with the very real sleaze that comes with any political campaign. There’s an idealistic streak, and a realistic streak. The high-and-mighty speeches are balanced out by how things look behind the scenes, which keeps the movie from coming off as too preachy.
As for Clooney the director, he’s at his best when working with actors, and he’s got a great ensemble cast. Of the major players, Gosling is crucial to carrying the movie, and he actually does really well. It’s a bit of a stretch to buy his change through the movie, as it seems a bit rushed, but the speed at which it happens allows the movie not to overstay its welcome. The flick keeps moving and never bogs down on any one moment. Everyone gets a chance to shine and everyone gets some meaty lines to chew on.
Still, the plot is essentially a morality play, albeit a fairly well handled one. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of real climax or resolution to the movie: it seems to just end. A bit abruptly, but that probably explains the runtime being a lean 101 minutes. The pacing is solid, but it just seems like it’s half a movie, rather than a whole flick… it’s as if the editing department went a little mad and cut thirty or forty minutes out of Clooney’s intended two to three hour epic.
It begs the debate, is it better for a movie to end too soon or end too late? I understand the intent was to leave the flick open-ended, but I think it’s a bit too open-ended for my tastes. I can understand leaving the audience to ask questions and figure out an answer on their own, but the ambiguity is a killer for this movie.
It’s almost like the ending of The Sopranos in that way, but without the clues leading in either direction. The flick just comes to a full, dead, and frustrating stop. It’s good, but the brevity of the movie is a major flaw. It just feels like the rare flick that needs more fleshing out, rather than being a fatted calf in need of a butcher’s skilled carving knife.