Friday, October 28, 2011

The Ides of March

THE IDES OF MARCH                 C+                  
USA  (101 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  George Clooney
America remained obsessed with the ramifications of the Vietnam War for decades afterwards, where the anti war protests of the 60’s and 70’s left the Democratic left subject to attacks from the Republican right for being soft on defense, a criticism that stuck a chord with American voters, leading President Reagan to coin the phrase the Vietnam Syndrome, which was a reluctance on the part of Americans to support foreign military intervention, still reeling from the negative effects of the experience in Vietnam, where so many lives were unnecessarily lost.  This led to a series of Republican Presidents in a 24 year cycle from Nixon to Bush, interrupted only for four years by Washington political outsider Jimmy Carter, who offered amnesty for draft dodgers that fled to Canada during the Vietnam era.  The quick success of American troops in Operation Desert Storm (1991), declaring a cessation of ground operations just 100 hours after the campaign started, made many forget about the shameful debacle of Vietnam, which remained something of an unspoken embarrassment for decades afterwards. 

What this film does is resurrect the scandalous legacy of the Clinton years, completely ignoring any political success or failures during his two terms, but instead focusing entirely on the shameful conduct of his personal life, much as the Republican opposition did when he was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1998, later acquitted by the Senate.  All people talked about during that era was how a President having extra marital sex in the White House demeans the office of the Presidency.  If one didn’t know better, you’d think this movie was a Right wing smear campaign against Clinton, only to discover George Clooney directed and co-writes this script with Grant Heslov, adapting Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, which resuscitates from the dead the Republican argument 15 years after the fact, all but conceding the Republican view that Clinton’s womanizing was an embarrassment to the nation, as if the nation’s cynicism about politics can be traced to this single act. 

Despite the preaching and overreaching tone of seriousness where everything looks larger than life, this is basically a rehashing of the Monica Lewinsky story where a Democratic Presidential candidate (Clooney) is again caught having sex with a young intern (Evan Rachel Wood), despite believing he had taken every precaution to avoid getting caught. The story even includes the intern having a powerfully connected father, as here he is the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.  This is all about the inside ramifications within a political operation rather than the overall effect it has on the nation, but certainly by the end, there is no denying that politics itself have been tainted with this kind of tawdry descent into tabloid journalism.  For Clooney to exploit the salacious sex angle undermines any other meaningful point the movie may be trying to make, as a revisitation of the immorality of the Clinton years is quite simply an astonishingly regressive step.  Nonetheless the movie is so slick that many may actually miss this point, as it’s not so much a movie about THE CANDIDATE (1972), where Clooney himself is relegated to a mostly offscreen secondary role, it’s instead what’s going on in the lives of the political operatives behind him, where their lives are surrounded by the intense pressure and daily intrigue of running a high profile political campaign.        

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the rumpled, cigarette smoking man behind the candidate, the head political operative with all the years of experience, where his wing man media advisor is the up and coming rising star, Ryan Gosling, where together this team runs a formidable political operation, known for their shrewdness in manipulating the press and for their inspirational political savvy, making sure their candidate stays on message.  In contrast, the opposition campaign is run by none other than Paul Giamatti in a Rabelaisian role of a guy willing to “get down in the mud with the fucking elephants” and play dirty tricks and political hardball, not at all afraid to use smear tactics to raise his candidate’s standings in the polls.  The behind-the-scenes intrigue is especially convincing by the power of Gosling’s performance, as he single handedly elevates this material, as does an affecting turn from Evan Rachel Wood, as the two are the real heart and soul of this movie.  Despite excellent performances from some heavy hitters, the problem is that this never elevates the political discussion, instead it only rehashes old news, bringing it all back to the forefront, something we all hoped was forgotten long ago.  Leave it to a liberal leaning Democrat to once more embarrass the Democrats with another eager young intern and cast an ugly stain over the entire political system in the process.  All that’s missing is the blue dress.    


  1. Hello there.
    First of all. I have had a great pleasure in reading some of your movies reviews. Furthermore and to be honest, I was gladly surprised of your very good knowledge when commenting and judging European movies (for some unknown reasons further to the fact that you are listing Illinois as your place, I think you are an American, correct and forgive me if I am wrong). This review about George Clooney‘s The Ides of March at least for me is totally confusing. I find the first paragraph, if mostly correct, with no connection to this movie whatsoever. The invasion of Grenada (1983) during the Reagan’s years was intended to bring some closure to the Vietnam not so good memories. Reagan did manage to finally make a nation proud for a military victory, even when everyone knew that Grenada was a lost dot in the world map.

    I happen to agreed with your observation as you put it;
    “If one didn’t know better, you’d think this movie was a Right wing smear campaign against Clinton, only to discover George Clooney directed and co-writes this script with Grant Heslov, adapting Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North”

    But then again, I am still confused as the movie clearly indicates a race to the WH by to democrat candidates, and the front runner (Clooney) (well maybe he is not the front runner but the one that in the movie is paid the most attention to) uses very much of the language and rhetoric that is taking place in this election year of 2012 by the two parties. If we didn’t know better, the only one that gets some benefit by the morals of this film is no other than Gingrich as he cannot be blamed now by the same things prez Clinton did.

    I know it has been mentioned in your review that the movie was based on Willimon’s play and I think I’ve read it somewhere that it was suggested to Clooney to name the movie Farragut North or something like that, but this movie in my opinion has nothing to do with Clinton, the metro station (curiously opened in 2008), the civil war Admiral or gob. Howard Dean. He (Clooney) chose a name rather to reflect in JC’s assassination and betrayal, or the fact that someone is in the midterm of his potential 8 years mandate, and then I am debating myself with two ideas regarding the message; do whatever it takes to stay in power after despising and betraying several of his closer aids or you are just as corrupt as every other politician who once is elected to power in order to stay there at the top ends up by betraying all of us who believe in you.

    Really don’t know what to think.

    Thank you for this blog. Regards, Jack (Montreal).

  2. Hey thanks for the kind words

    The point of the opening paragraph is that Republicans have led the argument in Presidential races in America since the Vietnam War, both in terms of being strong on law and order, strong on defense, and conservative family values, the exact opposite of the Democratic left which had a more progressive social agenda, like supporting women and gay rights, trying to eliminate poverty and racial injustice, provide universal health insurance, and making the rich pay their fair share of taxes. With this Republican platform, the conservative response to Vietnam, they all but ran the table in Presidential elections until Clinton was elected to two terms. During Clinton's second year, when the nation really slid to the right, all you heard was right wing talk radio hammering at how he soiled the office of the Presidency with his sleazy sexual conduct within the White House. Quite frankly, that's all we heard from Bush Jr. and Cheney as well.

    So what does George Clooney do, a liberal leaning Democrat? He resurfaces in this film the Republican argument hammered to the press during the Clinton years, using a Clintonion example of immoral sexual conduct as an example of moral hypocrisy, the kind of sleazy, behind the scenes conduct that makes people hate and distrust politics in general. Lest we go back further and recall the exploits of Gary Hart's foiled presidential bid? For Clooney to voluntarily raise from the dead the anti-Clinton sentiment 15 years after the fact is quite simply stupifying, as it only serves to shoot himself in the foot with his own constituency and derail the credibility of his film with more leering tabloid sleaze, something we grew sick of decades ago. Whatever political points he may or may not have made in the film afterwards become meaningless, undermined by his (Clooney's) true moral undoing, his willingness to be blackmailed. Using this example, Clinton should have resigned from office in disgrace, like Gary Hart.

    Just as an aside, this is what J. Edgar Hoover counted on when he leaked tapes of Martin Luther King's extra-marital affairs to the press just prior to his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, thinking he could bully and manipulate King into refusing to accept, but King, and Clinton, refused to abide by the gutter tactics of others and held their ground, continuing to fight for what they believed in.

    That's not the message of Clooney's film.

    1. Thank you Mr. Kennedy for your response.
      All I know, based on my perceptions as well as on the things I read and watch on the tube, (and I am just not referring only to FN, CNN, NYT, etc.) and for real good reasons, is that Americans are in the same way as the rest of the world is very sick and tired of politicians regardless of the parties they are representing as none of them are to be trusted. To choose the "lesser of two evils" as a formula to partially fix a real problem will simply prove very wrong in the long run as history has taught us over and over again*.

      Since you mentioned it I do remember quite well the Gary Hart's affairs. How to forget the picture of Donna Rice sitting on the knees of Gary Hart on the luxury yacht Monkey Business? but… Is it any different to the foiled Herman Cain presidential bid?

      I won’t be too sure regarding Clooney’s film message. There is a large and growing amount of people that feels disappointed as I am sure you know. Even O. Stone is siding with Ron Paul over the hope and change just to give you a today’s example**. I am very disappointed myself because as we say in Spain; “no se puede tapar el sol con un dedo”.

      This is a blog (and a very good blog indeed!) that deals with the 7th. Art, and I can assure you that nothing is as far from my interest that to start endless and fruitless discussion about politics then I will mention to end my comment the movie Brewster's Millions (1985) quoting Richard Pryor: "None of the Above" and just to agree on something as our views and understanding differ on the Clooney’s film I turn to the old Vonnegut:

      "I think we can come up with a statement on which all Americans, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, straight or gay, can agree, despite our country being so tragically and ferociously divided. The first universal American sentiment I came up with was: 'Sugar is sweet.'”

      *Will Cuppy - The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody.

      **Filmmaker Oliver Stone, known for his liberal political views, said he would vote for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul over President Obama should Paul win the Republican nomination. (

      Thank you and My very best regards to you, Jack