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Film review: The Ides Of March

27th October 2011

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Disappointment in politicians, an early stage of the American presidential elections, the it-man of the season in the lead: ‘The Ides of March’ could hardly be more topical.

The Ides of MarchThe title refers to the day of reckoning for Julius Ceasar, where he was stabbed by a group of conspirators. Not that the characters in the movie refer to this: they are too busy meeting in back rooms and spinning the news. Stephen (Ryan Gosling) is an idealistic staffer for presidential candidate Morris (George Clooney, also directing), and works with more experienced staffer Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman). As they prepare for the Ohio primaries, they are working on an endorsement which will pave the way straight to the White House. When the stakes gets higher, Stephen finds out that no-one can be trusted, and the movie accelerates into a thriller-like set-up, complete with suspicious deaths and meetings in half-lit rooms.

Morris’candidacy mirrors president Obama’s in some ways: whereas there is no race issue involved, Morris would be the first non-religious candidate to come into office. One scene with Morris’wife leaning against him while they are travelling seems to be inspired by the World Press Photo-winning photograph of the Obamas. The difference is that in Clooney’s version, there is no hopeful morning light: the scenes takes place in the dark. Since the movie takes place on the election trail, everyone is permanently in transit: all scenes  take place in hotel rooms, make-shift offices and campaign busses. Human relations turn out to be equally uncertain, and all based on political gain. The one time Stephen’s father calls, it turns out to be a trick from one of his opponents.

In this world where words are to be twisted and traded, the actors have only their faces to work with. The excellent cast manages to convey their doubts and fears underneath their smooth surface. However, with the relations and situations in the movie being shifty, the characters have to be very strong, and this is where the movie is lacking at times.

Stephen is presented as a worldwise media spinner who has worked in many campaigns but has never truly believed in a candidate before: yet he is surprisingly naive when it comes to relations with the press and his collegueas. His convictions that his candidate will really make a change this time is something that we’ll have to take his word for: we don’t see any of the characters connecting with their voters, or being involved in any issues other than the next news cycle.

Maybe this lack of human interest was intended to highlight the post-Obaman cynicicism of the movie, but it also weakens the story. Gosling’s face shows that his foundations are crumbling, but it is hard to see what they were build on.

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