The History Place - Movie Review

The Ides of March

By Jim Castagnera
Special to The History Place
10/17/11

George Clooney, the Cary Grant of 21st century Hollywood, likes to alternate his fluffier roles with more serious, politically charged projects.  Most notably, five years ago, he garnered a best-director nomination for Good Night and Good Luck, which told how broadcast-journalist Edward R. Morrow took on Senator Joe McCarthy, and a Best Supporting Actor award for his disillusioned CIA agent in Syriana (reviewed by me in this space).

The Ides of March is a quintessential Clooney project, written, directed and starring Gorgeous George as the idealistic Governor Mike Morris, a Democratic presidential candidate trying to sew up his party’s nomination with a primary win in Ohio.  Rounding out the outstanding cast are Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ryan Gosling, as the governor’s spin doctors, Paul Giamatti as the leading opponent’s Svengali, and Marisa Tomei as a tough-as-nails newspaper woman.

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The plot poses the aspiring politician’s classic dilemma:  should he compromise his principles during the campaign, so that he can get into the Oval Office, where he can implement his high ideals?  In this instance, with the other side poised to win Ohio through a dirty-tricks maneuver, Governor Morris must decide whether to offer the number-two spot on the ticket to a corrupt senator in order to secure some 350 delegates that will put him over the top.

As this political potboiler takes its twists and turns, the idealistic prove to be corruptible and the cynics sometimes turn out to have higher values.  It’s no “spoiler’ for me to tell you that sexual escapades enter the picture early on and remain a driving force to the end.

Indeed, if one decries the film’s denouement (which I won’t give away), then one might wonder if it isn’t time for us Americans to grow up.  Perhaps it’s time for us to understand that the same alpha males, who quest for high political office, also are drawn to women like flies to the honey pot.  And many women find power an irresistible aphrodisiac.

From Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, right on down to William Jefferson Clinton, John Edwards, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, our political superstars have had their mistresses and paramours.  FDR and JFK were the lucky ones.  In their days, the press tended to turn blind eyes and blind lenses to our chief executives’ peccadilloes.

Bill Clinton wasn’t so lucky.  Despite some solid achievements during his two-term presidency, he will go down in history as only the second president to be impeached, and the only one to be hauled before Congress for sex with an intern.  Clinton’s offense seems to have been one source of inspiration for The Ides of March.  In a climactic scene Gosling tells Clooney that the voters will overlook many a fault in their favorite candidate, but they won’t forgive sex with a campaign intern.

If the film has a message – other than the cliché that power corrupts – perhaps it is that our political process urgently requires a return to the days when the media and the voters separated our leaders’ political positions from their private lives, leaving the latter to be judged by their wives, their clergy and their own consciences.

Rated R for pervasive language.

Jim Castagnera is a Philadelphia freelance journalist and lawyer.  His website is http://jamescastagnera.wordpress.com/

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