Friday, October 7, 2011

Ides of March

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (L) Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Ides of March (directed and cowritten by George Clooney along with Gregory Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on Willimon's play Farragut North) is a well-written and reasonably well executed hard-boiled political/campaign thriller that, possessing much of the dynamics and cynicism of the 1920s-40s, feels like a movie that we've seen or read before but nonetheless updated quite well to the present time.   The movie reminds us that in our political campaigns there is the rhetoric and then there is the skullduggery of the campaign that makes one wonder if the rhetoric means much of anything at all.

Liberal Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (played by George Clooney) is leading in the race for the Democratic nomination for President.  The only rival left to beat is the more conservative Arkansas Senator Pullman (played by Michael Mantell).  The two meet at the beginning of the movie in a debate held in Ohio two weeks prior to a primary to be held there, which Gov. Morris' campaign, led by campaign manager Paul Zara (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) and #2 man, campaign press secretary/media strategist Stephen Myers (played by Ryan Gosling) believes should seal the nomination for Morris.

But there are both some problems and some loose ends to tie-up.  First, Senator Pullman's campaign, led by hardened strategist/manager Tom Duffy (played Paul Giamatti) is not giving up.  Second, a defeated but still influential candidate, North Carolina Senator Thomson (played by Jeffrey Wright), with his 300 delegates, is trying to use the clout that he has to squeeze promises out of both of the remaining campaigns.  Third, there's the press to both use and keep at bay, represented by "Times Reporter" Ida Horowitz (played by Marisa Tomei).  Horowitz, like most reporters following a campaign has seen it all and actually would like to see the "horse race" continue for a few more weeks both because "it would sell more papers" but also because "it would simply be more exciting."  Finally, there are "the little people."  But these "little people" are not the "little people" that most viewers would initially think of .  The "little people" are not the voters.  Instead, they are the campaign volunteers, represented by 20-year-old campaign volunteer Molly Streams (played by Evan Rachel Wood).  And Molly's a rather strange "little person."  She comes across as somewhat naive (she is only 20 after all).  But above all, she's connected.  She's not working for Sen Morris out of much conviction.  Instead, she's involved in the Morris campaign as a campaign volunteer (manning the phone banks, perhaps helping to manage _a bit_ the local volunteers) because she happens to be "the daughter of the Democratic Party National Chairman." Above all, she seems simply to be there because she's mesmerized by the power of the "big-shots" around her.

Indeed, while most of the characters in the film from Governor Morris himself, to campaign manager Zara (and his rival in the other camp Duffy), to even Molly "kinda believe" in the campaign, the only one that the viewer would recognize as _truly believing_ (in the campaign) is Stephen Myers.  No, he was never a total "pie in the sky" dreamer and he's excellent at what he does (preparing Gov. Morris for his debates, handling the press).  However, it's clear that Myers was working for Gov. Morris because he believed in him and the rhetoric of his speeches.  The others _kinda_ believe the rhetoric of their campaigns too.  But they are not so married to it as Myers is.

So what happens when the campaign inevitably gets messy?  Well that's the rest of the movie.  Interestingly enough, though Gov. Morris (and most of his campaign) is presented as emphatically secular -- at the debate at the beginning of the movie, Gov. Morris simply tells the voters, "If you think I'm not Christian enough or religious enough, then just don't vote for me" -- religion and the basic moral demands associated with it never really disappear in the movie.  Instead, they hover at the edges and arguably offer a greater challenge to the political figures (Democrats) of this movie than if religion had been at the center of their campaigns.  It would seem therefore that the movie reminds viewers that rejection of religion does not free one from basic moral demands.  Whether one is a believer or not, corruption remains corruption and sin remains sin.

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