Spoiler Talk: The Ides of March

Judging by the literal handful of people at the screening I attended, The Ides of March will disappear from theaters faster than Ryan Gosling’s last movie Drive. No doubt to make room for The Thing remake/prequel/whatever (I put gun to my head) or the WTeffingF Footloose remake (I pull trigger) due to infect theaters next week.

Too bad. Because The Ides of March asks the eternal question “To what benefit man inherit the Earth if he were to lose his…” yada, yada. Like you care.

See it because it has Ryan Gosling (again) and Paul Giamatti, along with Academy Award winners George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Marisa Tomei all at the top of their game. In that way it’s a lot like last month’s Contagion sporting its Oscar-studded cast, except this time the disease is… power. That was deep.

See it because you’ll lose even more faith in our system of government. But since you had so little to begin with it’s a wash.

Or just see it because it’s one of the best films of the year, and don’t worry about sold out screenings, because there won’t be any. I think there were more illegal camera setups in the auditorium (hell, there were enough empty seats to set up monitors to track the recording) than there were people so by the time this is posted someone will have thrown it online.

But you’ll probably be busy trying to get that Human Centipede II seed.

Ides is writer/director George Clooney’s latest directorial outing since “˜08’s clunker Leatherheads and his best since…well, ever. If you’re worried about partisan politics, don’t be, because Clooney, along with co-writers Grant Heslov and Beau Wilmont (based on his play Farragut North), make sure all sides get a steel-tip to the junk.

Ides of March opens in Ohio for the Democratic Primary. The two main candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination are Mike Morris (George Clooney), a charismatic Governor of an unnamed state, and someone named Pullman. Pullman is not important because he’s not played by George Clooney.

Election Day is March 15th, hence the Shakespeare reference in the title.
Morris unsubtly parallels Obama in 2008 as even Morris’ campaign posters are dead ringers for Obama except for the fact that Clooney is white and Obama more resembles the coffee I’m drinking while I write this. At least that’s what I’ve been told as I don’t watch TV or read the news because it makes me sad except when they show pictures of animals that have been saved from the pound.

Morris seems the ideal candidate. He has a loyal wife (Contagion‘s Jennifer Ehle), a doting nameless child, and he looks like George Clooney. What possible skeletons could Morris have? Everyone answers Batman and Robin.

Morris’ brain trust is led by his campaign manager Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his up-and-coming superstar Press Secretary Steven (Ryan Gosling) . At 30 years old, Steven has the gift of juggling all the balls needed to run a successful campaign while making it look effortless.

If Morris and Co. win Ohio, the Presidential nomination is a close to a lock as it can get, but if only he can grease the wheels circle-jerking everyone that needs full release. But Morris doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, greasy, or sticky, so it’s up to Paul and Steve to keep Morris looking clean while they rev the machinations of politics.

First off: Getting Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) and his 356 delegates to endorse Morris. Of course, the Senator wants something else in return. And he’s willing to sell the endorsement to either Pullman or Morris for the right price, something that Paul doesn’t find out until it’s too late.

Steve has problems of his own.

An attractive 20-year-old intern named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) has been scoping Steve. Steve makes sure she says out loud that she’s 20 before he has sex with her to confirm everything is nice and legal even if inappropriate because when someone like Evan Rachel Wood offers to have sex with you, you say yes, propriety be damned, despite Across the Universe.

But we all know from grade school student council politics…you NEVER fuck the intern, because that tends to get back at you. Steve also finds out that Molly is the daughter of the head of the Democratic National Committee. That doesn’t necessarily stop Steve from having sex with her again.

Also, Pullman’s team is so taken with Steve that Pullman’s campaign manager Tom (Paul Giamatti) makes a secret offer for Steven jump Morris’ ship and work for the Pullman campaign. Steve knows he shouldn’t even be seen with Tom, but ego and curiosity gets in the way.

Tom lets Steve know that Senator Thompson has already made a deal with Pullman to endorse him and Paul inadvertently revealed most of the Morris camp campaign strategy when he talked to Thompson.

Steve immediately regrets meeting with Tom and is feeling the pressure of a possible ambush in the polls. If only he could release some of his stress by having sex with an intern.

That’s better.

Pangs of guilt force Steve to tell Paul that he saw Tom behind his back and that Thompson may be pillaging Pullman’s pocket for the Presidency. Steve also saw Marcy Moldenbush kiss Brett Parkingbrake at the dance while he she was supposed to have gone with Jimmy Neuter and Stacy Stillamux saw it too and you just know that bitch Stacy will just tell everyone especially Charlene Baghammond and once she says something everyone in the entire school will know about it before second period like when she texted everyone about Allison Geegaw’s Taylor Lautner tramp stamp which led to her getting nightsticked in the locker room. Paul appreciates the alliteration but is pissed at Steve for even considering the meeting with Tom much less taking it. Paul also thinks Stacy Stillamux is a bitch and is miffed that she posted that thing on Facebook a while back.

Paul and Steve tell Mike about what the Senator wants before he gives his endorsement. Governor Morris tells them he will not stoop to backhanded politics and to find another way to win Ohio. It seems that Mike Morris is a man with scruples after all, and it’s up to Steve to resort to dirty tricks in order to get Governor Morris the nomination so he can keep his job.

As you can guess, the deeper Steve digs, the more he realizes that everyone on the campaign trail has secrets. Mike Morris may not be the squeaky clean candidate he purports to be with even heavier baggage than Batman and Robin (The Good German?) . More importantly, Steven needs to decide for himself what lines he’s willing to cross in order to back a winner…

One realizes that all this sounds very dry and uninvolving, but it moves along a lot snappier onscreen.

What works with The Ides of March

1) Ryan Gosling’s 3rd great performance in 90 days with many degrees difference than his performance in Drive. Gosling says more words in the first 20 minutes of Ides than he does during Drive‘s entire running time. You may be disappointed that he doesn’t kill anyone in Ides (with his fists anyway), but it’s a performance of gradually revealing layers (he’s more like the sharks he criticizes than he’s willing to admit) . Steve knows the dangers of blind idealism, but is willing to go the whole 9 for something he believes in, even if it could bite him in the ass later. Gosling may be the best thing to ever come out of the Mickey Mouse Club.

2) As far as being revelatory about the ins and outs of politics, Ides isn’t as enlightening as you’d hope but less pretentiously preachy than you’d expect. Most of the moral issues stuff you’ve seen in dozens of other thrillers, but when you’ve got this cast performing it, you don’t mind that it sometimes feels like leftovers. The A-list cast elevates the talk-a-thon into a movie that generates genuine thrills as you might anticipate the way the movie will turn, but how it gets there is one of the movie’s many strengths. There are worse ways to spend 98 minutes.

3) A scene in a kitchen is one of the best of the year. Just two actors with great dialogue and no hammy overacting. And a line that summarizes all you’d want to know about politics in an election year (“It’s your call”) .

4) Kudos to director Clooney for giving himself maybe the 4th most important role in the movie and generously handing out the juicer parts to the other actors. Right behind Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman stands out as a man who prizes loyalty above everything even as he knows that in politics, loyalty means nothing.

What doesn’t work-

1) Of the cast, only Marisa Tomei’s gets short-changed as a hard-nosed reporter that reeks generically of characters you’ve seen in other movies. There’s not much to work with, though Tomei gamely gives it her all. It’s a small but noteworthy debit in a film that rarely missteps.

Overall. See it while you can as it’ll gone faster than you can say Killer Elite. Or you can see it sometime next year right after it’s nominated for about a dozen Oscars, including Best Picture and then you’ll regret seeing it this weekend because then you’ll look like a poser. You can leave your kids at that Hugh Jackman Gobot movie and just tell them you’re going on for snacks. When they ask you where you went just tell them that you found other kids that looked like them but were better behaved so you decided to hang out with them for about 100 minutes. They’ll rethink their behavior and become better children.

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