Beware Not ‘The Ides’

Courtesty of Columbia Pictures

The presidential election is still more than one year away, but this doesn’t mean that America isn’t preparing for it. If you were to check the news at this very moment, chances are you’ll find out how potential Republican presidential candidates –– like Herman Cain or Rick Perry –– are faring, or what President Obama has in store for his re-election bid.

It is perhaps at an appropriate time that “The Ides of the March” has arrived in theaters. The film, based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon, portrays the sad and unfortunate truth about politics: when it comes down to achieving power, ideals and promises are the first casualties.

As far as Stephen (Ryan Gosling) is concerned, he’s on the high road to success. As the campaign press secretary for presidential hopeful Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), he’s certain that his candidate will capture the Democratic nomination.

Of course, winning is not guaranteed, and the Ohio primary presents a huge test for Morris and company. To increase his chances for the nomination, Morris must obtain the endorsement of Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), who boasts 300 pledged delegates. However, there is a catch –– Thompson wants a Cabinet post, which Morris doesn’t want to grant but his opponent does.

Stephen’s talent catches the attention of Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the opposition’s campaign manager, who attempts to court him into joining the other side. Complicating matters even further is the horrible secret that Stephen learns from Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), an intern who works alongside him. Over the course of a few days, he discovers the darker and dirtier side of politics and its potential to corrupt.

The film’s title alludes to a scene from William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” where a Soothsayer warns Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March,” for it indicates a specific date, March 15: the day of Caesar’s assassination by a group of Roman senators. In the film, the date serves as the day of the Ohio primary.

The title change from “Farragut North,” which is a Washington metro station in Washington, D.C. that is referred to several times in the film, to “The Ides of March” is apt and intentional. Though no assassinations occur, March 15 also signals betrayal. Here, characters not only betray each other, but their beliefs, ideals and promises as well, all in the pursuit of power and potential victory.

Though the story isn’t entirely revelatory (if it is for you, then you must have a very optimistic view of how American politics work), it is extremely well told. A modern morality tale, “The Ides of March” perfectly balances politics with the machinations of a political drama/thriller, and is an engaging journey through this cynical world.

The film does an excellent job in communicating how strenuous any political campaign is, as Stephen writes multiple speeches and looks for anything that can harm the opponent’s chances while Morris appears on television programs and open debates.

Equally impressive is how there are no Republicans in the picture. They’re still acknowledged as a dark force to be reckoned with, but they have no presence onscreen. Instead, the story focuses on two Democratic candidates and shows that even though they pledge allegiance to the same party, they have different principles and are willing to do things that the other would never even consider.

Dialogue is a key staple in American politics (both in a good and bad sense), and really stands out in “The Ides of March.” The characters don’t physically harm or touch one another, but in a two-person conversation, their words and underhanded insults function as delightful figurative jabs and one-twos.

As the film is set during the 2008 presidential campaigns, it’s fascinating (if not difficult) to see the similarities between Morris and Obama. Morris’ campaign is directly influenced by Obama’s, as the former reaches out to young voters and his “Believe” posters bear the same tone as the latter’s “Hope” ones. Both have a special talent with words, which they demonstrate in their debates, interviews and speeches. Also, both espouse Democratic philosophies, which are soon challenged by the obstacles they face.

As we follow Stephen through all these twists and turns, we see how they affect and transform him, and Gosling puts forth a tremendous performance by portraying how he reacts to these chips at his character.

Always the charismatic one, Clooney appears to be in his comfort zone. He may as well be the ideal Democratic nominee for the presidency in real life, and if this is or was a dream of his, then he’s certainly living it out.

From the candidates’ campaign managers, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for Morris and Duffy for the other, we understand their perspectives on how to win. Hoffman portrays Paul’s determination and emphasis on loyalty with such zeal, and Giamatti may as well be the reincarnation of Niccolò Machiavelli, whose ideologies he deliciously dabbles in.

The rest of the cast don’t have as meaty roles as the aforementioned, but they manage to bring something exceptional to the table. Though cheery and confident on the outside, Wood is at her best when her vulnerability is exposed. Marisa Tomei, who plays New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz, turns on her charm when she’s hungry for some scoop. Though he has very few lines, Wright effortlessly demonstrates the authority of a man who has power.

Though “The Ides of March” reveals truths that we should already know, its story unfolds in a calm and comfortable manner, and features an outstanding cast. With the presidential elections coming up next year, the film does serve as an effective reminder of how politics is a dirty game that forces leaders to win our votes in order to acquire power, even if it means to betray their principles and promises. As Caesar declared to Marcus Brutus, “Et tu, Brute?”

Rating: 4 out of 5