Movies

Movie Review: The Ides of March

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He’s the real deal.  That’s what Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling, “Drive“), a press secretary and political consultant to Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney, “The American“), thinks of his boss.  Morris is running for the democratic presidential nomination.

Young and bright, Stephen is the idealist aide in the team led by senior campaign manager Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).  He’s the one the governor turns to when looking for a more truthful picture about the campaign, as opposed to the more jaded Paul.

The opening speech provides a glance of the kind of candidate Morris is.  Charismatic and presidential-looking, he claims that the constitution is his religion and appears to possess the kinds of ideals that people are aiming for.

In an exchange with Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei), a New York Times reporter, Stephen conveys his confidence that he truly believes Morris would make a difference in the lives of people should he be elected as president.  He’s not just a politician.

With Ohio being the battleground state, Morris must capture the state.  In order to do so, he would need to have Senator Thompson’s (Jeffrey Wright) endorsement to gain the support of his sizeable delegates.  And with that, Morris would be able to lock in North Carolina, the senator’s home state, and hit the home run with Pennsylvania, his state, and then clinch the nomination.  Sounds like a decent plan, except that the senator would go with whoever could provide him with a certain guarantee about his lofty request, which Morris steadfastly refuses to do.

On the other hand, Morris’ opponent, Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell), whose campaign is led by Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), would have no trouble in fulfilling the senator’s ambition.  Tom gets Stephen to secretly meet with him and plead with him to switch sides, with the argument that he would be on the winning team eventually when his team bags the crucial endorsement. Tom needs Stephen because of his expertise and likeability factor; simply put, he makes everything effortless and is adored by the press.

When the secretive meeting somehow gets leaked to the media, things snowball downward.  This happens around the time when Stephen is also handling a delicate dalliance with an intern, Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), who has just dropped him a bombshell.  Molly happens to be the daughter of the DNC Chairman, Jack Stearns (Gregory Itzin).

Whereas the news Stephen has received from Molly shatters his illusion about Governor Morris and his loyalty tested, he still feels compelled to take matters into his own hand on behalf of the campaign and moves on as planned.  He declines Tom’s offer and continues to remain on the Morris campaign.  It’s a game-changer, however, when Stephen finds out about the source of the leak and the fate of his promising career.

The way the story unfolds is fascinating to watch.  Stephen learns the rope rapidly during this cruel political duel and morality tale, transforming him from fresh to seasoned.  It’s do or die.  No longer naive, he becomes the type of shrewd that you’d never imagine he’d be.

We’re all shaped by the choices we make.  Are you in it to win it at any cost or only as long as you believe in the cause?  Would you always do the right thing even if you know it would not serve you right in the long run?  Or would you choose whatever means necessary as long as the end justifies the means?

“The Ides of March” is one of the best films of the year.  Razor-sharp with superb script, smart direction and compelling acting by the whole ensemble.  The astuteness is shades of last year’s “The Social Network.”

The story is a brilliant human chess game.  Play or get played.  If you don’t make a move or respond accordingly, you’ll be taken out of the game.  Intense moments, even during quieter, unseen scenes would feel as if gunfire would break out any minute.  It feels like blood has been shed, even without a single weapon drawn or shot fired.  It’s that good.

We’d like to believe that true democracy is alive and well and that the best person wins.  While “The Ides of March” is certainly a work of fiction, the story depicted may be as realistic as it can get to our political process.  Be a player or a pawn; it’s politics as usual.

Copyright (c) 2011. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, lifestyle/travel writer and film columnist. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com. Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven (http://themoviemaven.posterous.com).  Twitter: http://twitter.com/the_moviemaven

"Nathalia Aryani is a film columnist and has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com."

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