Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Ides of March

The Ides of March (2011, USA, George Clooney)

"The punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men." -- Plato

Once upon a time, a good man wanted to run in politics. He believed he could make a difference because he possessed intelligent ideas, great values and virtues. But once he entered politics, he found out how things truly worked. At first his fingers got dirty but slowly his soul and brain started getting coated with stains of mud. And before a year was over, he was throughly transformed into the very dirty person he had promised to free the country from.

It is an age old story applicable to every politician in every country around the world. The names and details change but the idea remains the same -- that power corrupts, directly or indirectly. Sometimes a politician feels they are still on the side of good even though they are cutting deals with those who break the law. Eventually, all those one time compromises, handshakes and promises erode away any remaining morality/credibility the politician may once have had.

The Ides of March depicts this well known story of how ideals and promises are crushed under the political reality machine. In this regard, the film is not showing anything new but what is refreshing is the focal point of the story. The film does not focus on governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) who is vying for a Democratic presidential ticket but instead fixes its attention on his young press secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) and shows that ditching of ideals can start at a very early age. Meyers is flying high after his intelligence and hard work have put him on the road towards an apparent better future. However, all of that changes when he receives a phone call from the rival campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), for a quick meeting. Meyers accepts the meeting request because he fails to think a few steps ahead like Duffy. When Meyers finally realizes that he was just a pawn in a political chess match, he starts scrambling to save his career. First, he opts for revenge but when that leads to nothing, he resorts to blackmail. In both cases, he uses a potential scandal that he accidentally uncovers to turn things around for himself.

The film shows the transformation of Meyers from an idealistic person into a cold calculative person, perfectly conveyed by the film’s final moments when the camera stays fixed on Meyers’ emotionless face. One can also see the genesis of Morris via Meyers. Morris is shown to be an intelligent person who talks a lot about honesty and integrity. However, as the film shows, his integrity can still be negotiated with. One can easily imagine that a long time ago Morris started out as idealistic as Meyers but Morris probably ditched a few of his ideals for a slice of power. Morris still retained a sense of good values but he is willing to rinse those values occasionally with some grayish shades in order to move ahead.

The fact that The Ides of March focuses on people around a potential presidential candidate is a smart choice. As history has often shown, a president or a party head is just the front man (or woman) with little decision making power. It is often the people working in the shadows that shape the policies and decisions the president/party head speaks about in public. In the film, Morris finds himself in a situation where he loses his ability to exert any power thereby allowing himself to be tugged by another. The film’s title, which refers to the date of Julius Caesar’s assassination, is also highly appropriate. There is no assassination in The Ides of March but there is a death which is caused by betrayal, something which also played a part in Caesar’s slaying. In fact, almost every character in the film, including Morris, Meyers, Zara, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) and even the journalist Ida (Marisa Tomei), are betrayed to some extent by those around them. Loyalty and trust are stabbed occasionally with no hint of remorse.

The sound and lighting are used to great effect in The Ides of March as are the close-ups. The camera focuses directly on a character and lingers there for a few extra seconds to give an idea of their thoughts while there is silence in the frame when needed. The film also leaves a little bit of doubt regarding not only the scandal but also the death in the movie. This doubt may seem like a loophole in the plot but it also leaves room to show that there is someone else, outside of the frame, that is pulling the shots thereby making every character in the film, from Meyers to Morris, just a pawn in the bigger picture. There are some excellent performances in the film, most notably by Ryan Gosling who is easily one of the best American actors working in the industry today. His great performance in Blue Valentine was ignored but he truly deserves a nod for 2011 after giving two top-notch performances in Drive along with The Ides of March.


Sam Juliano said...

Yes, the framing, lighting and close-ups are used to wonderful eefect in this solid work. You have again provided a stellar analysis of a thought-provoking film that stands tall among recent multiplex releases. Seems liek Clooney is really enjoying a banner year. I just saw THE DESCENDANTS last night, which features him in what is sure to land him among this year's Oscar nominees.

Sachin said...

Thanks Sam. It is certainly one of the better multiplex options. I believe THE DESCENDANTS will open next week here. Curious to see it given the praise it has been getting.