It isn’t exactly to the Oxford Union’s credit that when watching The Ides of March, ‘slates’ spring to mind. In this tight political drama, Ryan Gosling plays Stephen, an idealistic yet ruthless political aide to Clooney’s Democrat nominee. His relationship status? “Married to the campaign, Governor”. The action takes place on the Ohio Democratic Primaries battleground. Stakes are high, with the winner probably America’s next commander-in-chief. Stephen is not yet “jaded and cynical”, like the opposing senior campaign managers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti) and his “best friend”, a manipulative journo. However, a burgeoning relationship with a sexy coffee-carrying intern reveals the cracks in his political chessboard. Knights become pawns as the mud starts to fly. In a world where information is ammunition, Stephen must negotiate threats of blackmail and betrayal, as he struggles to reconcile loyalty to “his guy” and keeping his career alive.
George Clooney leads from the front in this film, as director and playing the central political figure. He draws fine performances from a strong ensemble cast, young star Gosling holding his ground amidst the Oscar winning giants. There are few redeeming features about their characters, nicotine dependants locked into a distorted value system where the ends justify the means, and the means cannot be justified. Apparently politics is no place for saints: who knew? But the tangles of plot are engaging, gripping and tripping the viewer. This look at the backstage of politics is a sophisticated and subtle rendering, framed by evocative images: a man’s entire career burns in a shot of a tinted Chevrolet backed into an alley; silhouettes scheme in front of the stars and stripes at a political rally. The dialogue is American snappy without being too up itself, refreshed by some surprising comedy (at one point, Stephen is distracted from sex by Morris appearing on TV).
Ultimately, The Ides of March tells us nothing new. Its allusions to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar remind us that politics is, and always has been, a dirty game. Without giving too much away, this does mean it’s sometimes formulaic: roles with which we’re already familiar and expect to find in political drama. Even so it’s great entertainment, and integral to this is Gosling as the complete dick that you fancy anyway. We’re left with a question: can a bad man, surrounded by bad men, be a great leader?
– Chloe Cornish