I am not shocked that I enjoyed The Ides of March. I’m fairly cynical when it comes to politics, making political thrillers my bread and butter simply because they affirm my jaded opinions of politicians on either side if the party-line. That doesn’t mean this is favorite genre of film, mind you. It just makes it easier for movies in this category to please me. However, The Ides of March did exceed my expectations on two levels. I was pleasantly surprised at how apolitical it was and how restrained Clooney was as a director.
Going into the theater, I knew I would at least be entertained but I feared that George Clooney’s smug might be present, and that pushing real world political agendas might be the motivation for the entire film. This is always a disappointment because it is usually done at the sacrifice of good storytelling. Thankfully, Clooney kept this political thriller fairly apolitical. This sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s not. By planting the characters squarely in the Democratic Party and basing the story in the Presidential Primary Race, The Ides of March avoids the “Liberals vs. Conservatives” trap, allowing the audience to grapple with its classic morals vs. means conundrum.
My second surprise came from just how restrained Clooney’s directorial style was. I don’t really know why, but I was expecting this film to be an exercise in “slick” directing — constantly moving cameras from interesting angles with bold and intense music throughout. Which works well if you are Chris Nolan or David Fincher, but I tire of the second-hand directorial style of recent mediocre thrillers.
Clooney successfully avoids a second common pitfall; using overly stylized direction to cover a lack of story or the lack of ability to tell a good story. His minimalist direction, coupled with a great musical score, allows the audience to be all the more drawn into the drama of the film which perfectly frames a classic philosophical question: Do the means justify the ends? What makes this particular story compelling is that the means depicted within are completely realistic and an everyday part of modern politics.
Aside from these two pleasant surprises, my favorite part of this movie was its ending. It actually ends at the completion of the story arc! What an amazing concept. I loved the abrupt ending because I was expecting the usual five or ten minutes of wind-down thrown as explanation for the few dolts in the theater. Really though, ending at the proper point gives the audience the ability to better interpret things for themselves and leaves people wanting a bit more. This film reminded me of another Clooney film, Michael Clayton, in that it has expert pacing and doesn’t assume its audience is stupid.
I feel that The Ides of March easily rises above most, if not all, of this years previous films. It is precisely directed and acted, with extremely compelling characters. I highly recommend it. Although I can see how some might feel as Fogs’ Movie Reviews, that our current political atmosphere makes this film’s extreme realism just a little hard to stomach.