So many movies lately have tried to tackle the most boring aspect of a topic in the forefront of our lives and try to turn it into something thrilling. Of the topics the one I’m mostly uninterested in is politics- mostly because it’s a topic so rich with varying opinions and voices way more qualified to share their opinion that throwing my hat in the ring would be as ill advised as putting a blind man behind the wheel of a car entering a Nascar race. While politics is not my bread and butter I can recognize when a film conveys the ugliness and shady conversations behind closed doors in an effective way. THE IDES OF MARCH is a film that will talk your ear off at nauseam until it turns you finally realize you are chin deep in a tense thriller with zero threat of any real physical violence- it’s not a glamorous accomplishment but an accomplishment nonetheless.
Dirty politics takes center stage when Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) has to learn the hard way that when it comes to winning a presidential nomination some people will stop at nothing to secure a win. Stephen works for presidential hopeful Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) and his senior campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman). However, when opposing campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) offers him a job and a pretty blonde intern seduces him, Stephen finds his loyalties spiraling out of control.
More than anything else THE IDES OF MARCH is a film about characters. What I mean is that yes there’s plot and things do happen but really everything in the film relies on the characters themselves. Where lots of films put characters in dicey situations and let them work their way through them this one is nothing more than characters in their job and how their personalities and personal demons control what they do or say. Every movie has characters that do things and say things but for me I wasn’t as hooked on the actual political race the characters are involved in as I was with their motivations and reactions to what other characters say and do. So when I say this is a film about characters what I really want to push across is that this is not a film about people running for a presidential nomination but instead is about how loyalties and motivations can change on a dime when a person’s livelihood and moral code is pushed to the edge.
It’s not a perfect theory to say the least but to a more direct point I will just say the performances in THE IDES OF MARCH are top notch. George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Ryan Gosling and Philip Seymour Hoffman all bring their characters to life and each of them has a different but distinct voice. Their characters are pushed and tested and you watch each and every interaction play out never knowing exactly how any one character will react. It’d be a disservice to any specific actor to single one out as better than another as they all give great performances and are leveled out in a way where none of them tip the scale in regards to anyone else in the cast.
All that being said the film itself is not perfect. As tense and engaging as the conversations between characters are and how great the performances are the film at times does feel a bit long. There are stretches that while acted well and don’t harm the tone of the film do make the time drag ever so slightly. Sometimes scenes of silence linger which also slows the pace down but also could be intentional just to add to the uncomfortable nature of the scene.
The performances are the standout of the film and it’s because of that the characters are about the only impression I was left with at the end. I wasn’t left with a profound reaction to how the election turned out outside of the implications of what characters had to do to get to that place. The dirty politics that eventually go in play make the dynamics between characters that much more interesting but their goal wasn’t as groundbreaking as you’d hope. That’s not a knock against the film as a whole because the film is held up and to great effect by the power of the writing and the performances in spite of how generic the actual plot around the characters happens to be.
When you look back at great thrillers a good handful usually involve key characters in mortal danger, most get killed or some sort of physical violence lurks just around the corner and at times I thought THE IDES OF MARCH would go there but it never does and I have to applaud the film for it. There are some darker aspects in the film for sure but given that the film is tense and engaging without character whipping guns or knives at each other and instead hurl lots of dialogue back and forth I believe the tension is that much more impressive. However as great as the initial viewing of the film is I still feel like the story is generic enough that there is little reason to continue revisiting it. The leads all knock it out of the park and easily make the film as watchable as it is but overall seeing it once was perfectly enough- yet there’d be no reason to hold a gun to my head if I was asked to watch it again.