“The Ides of March”: About the Transformation
by Tyler Austin | University of Southern California
“Y tu Brute?”-Caesar
With these infamous words comes the world’s first and best known case of political backstabbing. Since that fateful 15th day of March in 44 B.C. the political arena has only gotten more cutthroat, if less outright violent. The George Clooney-directed political thriller “The Ides of March” leaves nothing on the field.
To be clear, this is not your typical political conspiracy thriller. There is no spy work, no secret plot for government dollars, and no bad guy. The antagonist is politics itself. The grounded and realistic battle has the highest stakes of all; who will be the leader of the free world. That’s the scenario set up with only days before the Ohio Democratic Presidential Primary. The stage is set for a showdown between two candidates who, based on the circumstances of the election, are on the verge of being able to redecorate the White House.
The story begins on young up-and-coming political operative Stephen Meyers played masterfully by Ryan Gosling. At 30 years old Meyers has finally found a candidate he can believe in. Governor Mike Morris is liberal in all the right ways. He has a resume that includes a military service record, a balanced budget, and a state fourth in education. He has a lead in Ohio and a win will lock up his run. Clooney’s work as Morris is only outdone by his job behind the camera. He keeps the focus squarely on the electrifying performances of all five of the Oscars nominees who make up the principle cast. This is an actor’s film.
It is actually pretty amazing Meyers’s political idealism lived to see the age of 30 — Mr. Smith’s died within weeks of arriving in Washington and mine at a mere 19 — and yet there it is, right out on his sleeve. Ida Horowicz, a New York Times reporter played by Marisa Tomei, describes Meyers as being “all goosebumpy” about Morris. It’s no spoiler to tell you that over the course of the film his idealism is ground to dust. In this political tragedy the journey really is the destination.
The journey consists of the fantastic performances of Gosling, Clooney, Tomei, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti. Hoffman and Giamatti are powerful forces as opposing campaign managers. Hoffman owns every scene he is in with sheer power. His brief speech on loyalty is one of the film’s best moments. Giamatti embodies the bitter and jaded politico to perfection and gives some poignant advice to Gosling at a pivotal turning point in the film.
Having spent many months of hard work on a grassroots campaign, I can vouch that the film gets the atmosphere of a political campaign right. Even the somewhat monotonous details about programmed cell phones, robo-dialing and the intern hierarchy all ring true.
Meyers enters the film one way, goes through a baptism of fire, and emerges a different man. Transformation is at the heart of good storytelling and this one from idealist to realist is nearly perfect. The film may not say something new about politics, but never has it been said so succinctly. See this film. See it for the performances. See it for the realism. See it for the journey.Tyler Austin is a student at the University of Southern California majoring in Political Science with a minor in Cinema. He has loved film, television, and stand up comedy since he was young and now decided to share his opinions about them.