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Movie Review: The Ides of March

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If you like politics, this movie will be right up your alley. If you don’t, it will affirm your greatest fears. In any case it may very well change how you read the latest political news.

George Clooney is a squeaky clean politician. He has that movie star good looks so necessary in today’s media saturated campaigns. Philip Seymour Hoffman is his campaign manager, a wily political veteran. Ryan Gosling is the young political genius who knows how to sell the product. Paul Giamatti is the rival campaign manager. There, with four of my favorite male actors in one place, is the making of fireworks.

Gosling is an idealist. He’s excited and committed. He’s part of this campaign because he believes in what he’s doing and in the candidate he works for.

As the movie unfolds Marisa Tomei enters as a journalist always on the lookout for a deep background scoop. Evan Rachel Wood joins the scene as a young volunteer who also seems to be in it for the idealism.

Which sets the stage for some terrific acting, Oscar-level acting, especially by Clooney and the always different, always remarkable Gosling. Clooney is able to exude campaign charm and maintains that facade of being “above the fray.” Gosling, on the other hand, is soon challenged, his idealism taken to the cleaners. The change in his character is subtle until that moment when you look in his eyes and see … nothing.

In 1997 Wag the Dog used black comedy to raise issues of war and politics. Ides of March is a reality TV program in comparison. It may say more about who we are in 2011 than about the change in politics. Who are the good guys? The bad guys? Perhaps neither exist anymore? We may never be sure. Cynicism rules in the political process of the 21st Century. Opportunism is the overarching presence.

As a child of the ’60s, I was born and bred on idealism, fed at the well of activism as possible to change the world. Watergate ended much of that. But the current runs deep Ides of March raises all those old possibilities and specters of idealism and cynicism, opportunism and realism. Perhaps in American politics, in order to get elected or to achieve what you hope to achieve you have to do it in spite of yourself, your humanity, and even your deepest values.

I was deeply challenged by this movie. Old cliches may be more true than we care to accept. Power and the desire for power may be a drug that undermines who we are and all the politicians who want our support. Liberal, conservative, independent or idealist, watch yourself. You are in slippery territory.

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