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Review: The Ides of March

I finally got around to seeing The Ides of March tonight. Interestingly, the movie theater was still packed. I had read a few reviews suggesting it just didn't "hang together" as a movie, but I still had high hopes. I came of age politically in the age of West Wing, and the first R-rated movie I saw was Primary Colors. I'm enough of an idealist to think that political movies can either be inspiring ot at least interesting, and I often disagree with those particular reviewers.

Plus, look at the cast: George Clooney. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Paul Giamatti. Evan Rachel Wood. Even diCaprio was involved (not on screen; as executive producer), an while I hated him as a teenager, his adult acting and film projects generally have often appealed to me. This film looked like it could deliver on an interesting piece of political intrigue.

Unfortunately, though, Ides failed pretty dramatically. Not for the reasons the reviews I had read cited. Yes, the closing act (everything after Wood's suicide) lacked a fair amount of emotional resonance, but I could deal with that. I actually like stories that are more about the plot and theme than the characters. Case in point #1: Tolkien. ('nuff said there.) And case in point #2: I immensely preferred the early seasons of West Wing to the latter. But this movie seemed to be built on the premise that the ultimate goal of all these actions really isn't worth caring about at all.

A good example is in this trailer at 0:43 in. The way I parsed that beat in the trailer was: don't screw this up, because if you manage to win, you get to do this really cool thing of working in the White House. But that's not the scene at all in context. Tomei's character is a reporter who is essentially saying that who's in the White House doesn't matter to the everyday people at all, and that the campaign shouldn't be about ideals or even politics. It's about jockeying for a good career move. Survive the campaign, get your guy into the White House, and you get a good job. Otherwise you go back to private consulting.

That's disheartening, because the politics here are the kind of things many Democrats would love to see fought for. Clooney (the candidate) is an atheist who doesn't hie it but says his "religion" is the U.S. Constitution - so he respects other peoples' rights to religious liberty so long as they don't hurt anyone. Whether religion can ever in fact be that private of an affair, I think it's what a lot of liberals would like. There's also his reframing of the gay rights issue as civil rights. His push for public service and not just in the military. His commitment to reduce dependence on oil as a way to fight terrorism. A drive to get an economic policy that isn't a gift to the super-wealthy. And so on. I can easily see many Democrats and even independents voting for him precisely because they think it does matter.

At several points the movie played with the political cynicism that seems to underlie the whole plot. After learning that the candidate had slept with Wood's character, a "senior intern," Gosling says: "You can start wars and bankrupt the country. They'll forgive you for that. But you don't fuck the intern." (Gosling had slept with her, twice, but even to me that felt different because the power deferential was less. Though probably not less enough.) That actually made me think we deserve the system we get, where we are more concerned with the sex than anything else. except we don't. There's a great many people who do care about other things, and an election as conceived in this movie felt like playing with their sympathies. The complete randomness of much of the movie underscored this fact.

Take for instance the fact that the movie sets up the election to be decided by the Ohio primary. At one point the Republicans lead a voter-registration drive for the weaker candidate (Clooney's opponent) because they know they don't have anyone who can beat Clooney. But when I thought about it on the trip home, I was struck by how this was a way of making their votes count, which they otheriwse wouldn't have had by the movie's premise. Certainly no one else gets to be counted.

The subplot with Evan Rachel Wood was the one part I actually found moving. Wood is pregnant by Clooney, and she wants to get an abortion. She can't afford it herself, can't go to her parents because they're Catholic, and so she is trying to arrange for Clooney to pay for it. Ultimately Gosling gets the money from the campaign and also sends her home because she "screwed up" (by getting pregnant? By having sex with the candidate, when Gosling was already carrying on with her?) Gosling takes her to the clinic and promises to come pick her up when she's done, but in the meantime he is basically fired, so Wood is stuck at the clinic with no way to get home. She handles that herself eventually and goes back to her crummy motel, where her roommate tells her excitedly that he's just been promoted. All the while Wood is pretty distraught but no one notices it, and she eventually kills herself. Again, no one really grieves for her beyond her parents. Rather, Gosling uses the incident to get his job back, and the movie ends with a new intern ominously showing up.

What interested me about this was the way it played at consent on Wood's part. Wood got pregnant because she had to take some report to his room late one night. Clooney closed the door behind her, but Wood insists she "wasn't that drunk." Later, Clooney calls her late at night to arrange for the abortion. Yet he doesn't; that falls to Gosling. And once she's died Clooney doesn't show any remorse - just concern that his secret will be found out. If sleeping with an intern is sudden death, being connected with a dead one is even worse.

Oh: Wood's character is nineteen.

This could have been an interesting commentary on the paucity of women, or the powerlessness of them, or of something. Instead, it's just another level of maneuvering for a title that means very little beside the title, apparently. By the end (to paraphrase West Wing's Toby Ziegler) there was literally no one in the cast that I didn't hate, or at least feel complete indifference toward. That apparently does not a compelling movie make. Actually, I suspected it might be in the same category as Bad Teacher, an effort to ridicule and turn the public's opinion against a certain group that the right was trying to take down; but so many of the cast are famously liberal; I'm not sure how plausible that is.

In the end, I was left not being sure just what I was supposed to think. It seemed a rather wasted two hours. :-S I'm sure there are some redeeming qualities (some people I know liked it) but I'm just not seeing it.

This entry was originally posted at http://fidesquaerens.dreamwidth.org/16596.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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