Last night I was lucky enough (along with 1700 other mostly old people) to be the first in the world to see George Clooney’s new film ‘Ides of March’ at the Venice Film Festival. Directed by Clooney and starring himself, Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the film fits nicely into the ‘political thriller’ genre.
‘Ides of March’ tells the story of Democratic canditate Mike Morris (played by Clooney, and based on Howard Dean, who ran as a Democratic candidate for United States presidency in 2004). The film focuses on the character Stephen Myers (played by Gosling), Morris’ idealistic manager who follows the political campaign across the country. While having an affair with the intern Molly Stearns (played by Wood), Myers discovers that Morris previously slept with, and impregnated her. The plot explores Myer’s efforts to hide this potentially damaging political scandal, Molly’s fear and (well founded) paranoia of being exposed, and her subsequent suicide. Along the way Myers is fired and his unwavering idealism is replaced by an intense, selfish desire for revenge and a proclivity for blackmail.
Despite a simple plot, the film brings up complex issues surrounding gender, power and politics. Evan Rachel Wood’s character is portrayed as a young, flirty intern. Having been made intern through her father’s connections, she sleeps first with the presidential candidate and then with his manager, at one point asking the latter if he thinks she is a slut. Only 20 years old, she is perhaps more naive and confused than one would first assume. Seduced first by Morris, it seems she turns to Myers as a cry for help when she discovers she is pregnant. Here the audience becomes aware of her victimisation- she is left pregnant and scared by Morris, who is happily married and has a reputation to uphold, and then fears her situation will be exposed by Myers after he is fired. Out of fear, she comits suicide, with both men are left unscathed, if not better off by her death. For Morris, a potential scandal is averted, helping him maintain his happy marriage and clean reputation. For Myers, he gains leverage over the presidential candidate, threatening to out the story if he is not rehired. The feelings of the girl are irrelevant.
While the film is based on the real life candidacy of William Dean, the Molly Stearn subplot is said to be entirely fictional. Nevertheless, you need not look far to find instances of abuses of power occuring in politics. Justin Chang succinctly describes “Ho-hum insights into the corruption of American politics are treated like staggering revelations.” I agree completely. While ‘The Ides of March’ is a strong film, it failes to pose new questions or challenge audiences about the reality of American politics. 3.5/5 stars