(note: I discuss the influences surrounding the end of the film, but for a proper explanation as to the end of the movie, click here.)
Say William Shakespeare wasn't born in 1564 but 1985. Say he wrote and directed movies instead of plays. And say while his movies weren't archaic in their language and no one spoke in iambic pentameter, they were otherwise striking at the same emotions via the same tragic and comedic plot developments.
How would critics respond?
"From the film's ideological vantage point, moderate Democrats are Machiavellian devils, and Republicans are an inconceivable evil looming on a distant horizon, like the White Walkers in Game of Thrones." --Christopher Orr
"...does a good job opening up the idea Willimon first explored onstage, but the result is still a pessimistic truth so universally acknowledged that it doesn't bear repeating, however stylishly." --Ann Hornaday
"...adds up to less than it appears to be at first glance, or even the first several glances." --Dana Stevens
"The problem is that the news the story brings may be perfectly accurate, but it isn't particularly original, and it's certainly not what we hunger for in these dispiriting, cynical times." --Joe Morgenstern
"Even though all the supporting elements of a superior film are here, the actual plot that everything is at the service of is disappointing. The texture of reality and the sheen of fine craft disguise this for a while, but not forever." --Kenneth Turan
"Somehow, the film is missing both adrenaline and gravity, notwithstanding some frantic early moments and a late swerve toward tragedy. It makes its points carefully and unimpeachably but does not bring much in the way of insight or risk." --A.O. Scott
"'The Ides of March' rests its moral outrage on a rickety podium of glibness and coincidence. It passes the character test, but it can't go the distance." --Ty Burr
"This film is full of great actors, but not enough people." --Anthony Lane
"It's tempting to praise The Ides of March as a realistic depiction of how low we've sunk. But that would mean accepting the second-rate writing and third-rate melodrama and incredible shrinking characters." --David Edelstein
"[An] intriguing but overly portentous drama, which seems far more taken with its own cynicism than most viewers will be." --Justin Chang
Director: George Clooney
Democratic Presidential Candidate: George Clooney
Assistant Campaign Manager Wunderkind: Ryan Gosling
Chief Campaign Manager: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Rival Campaign Manager: Paul Giamatti
Hot Intern: Evan Rachel Wood
Big Deal Reporter: Marisa Tomei
Ohio Senator: Thompson
Look. It boils down to this:
Ides of March is not a political thriller. It is not an overt critique of American politics. It is not cynical (though certain characters are). While critics and viewers may read into the movie, may search the movie for motifs and answers, Ides of March has no ostensible themes.
There's no greater message. Sure we may say the theme is "loss of innocence" but the loss of innocence is, like everything else in this movie, a means to an end.
And that's one of the two key concepts to understanding Shakespeare as a playwright. The first is "use of language". The second--which is what's important to our discussion--is conflict. Conflict brought, play after play, to melodramatic heights.
Everything else we associate with "art"--themes, commentary on society, greater messages/life lessons, "purpose"--was secondary to Shakespeare. And that's why his work endures. Because it's vacuous. And the empty spaces allow each reader to interpret the work differently, each director to draw out his or her own themes, each actor and actress to continually refine and nuance the roles. The empty spaces are why Shakespeare is still performed (400 years and running) and adapted. And the empty spaces are what allowed Clooney to take a play, Farragut North, gut it, and turn it into a modern version of Julius Caesar.
There's no reason to rename Farragut North if it were a straight adaptation. By changing the title to one of the famous lines from Julius Ceasar, Clooney is asking us to compare Ides not to North but to Shakespeare's Work. And if we're comparing The Ides of March to Julius Caesar, we should look to similarities in style.
And what do we find?
This: a movie devoid of explicitness, of external goals.
Critics are complaining Ides fails as a political film. Yes, it does. Because it's not trying to be one.
Critics are complaining Ides has too much melodrama. Yes, it does, because it's a retelling of Shakespeare's melo-tragedy Julius Caesar.
Critics are complaining Ides's characters don't have enough depth/lose what depth they had. Yes, because the characters aren't important. Conflict was Shakespeare's gospel, not character development, and Ides abides by this.
Critics are complaining Ides wallows in cynicism. It doesn't. It uses cynicism the same way Romeo & Juliet used unapproved love, the same way Hamlet used grief, the same way Macbeth used ambition: as a tool for conflict. Gosling's character is idealistic and young. His elders, Seymour Hoffman, Giamatti, and Tomei, all direct cynical remarks to him (three witches?). Tomei tells Gosling that Clooney (the presidential candidate) is a politician and will eventually disappoint him. Seymour Hoffman and Giamatti both warn Gosling that politics will wear him down, is enervating. In the case of Ides, cynicism is prophecy.
The movie ends with the cynicism fulfilled. ("Wait, so doesn't that mean it's a cynical movie?" No. It's a tragedy. Cynicism is merely a way to get from Point A to Point Sadness. You can argue that Tomei's comment is indicative that politics is hopeless, but it's intent was foreshadow not revelation.) And this means Gosling's innocence has been lost. Everything that has happened, that's been said, has happened to bring Gosling to the final scene in a broken state-of-mind. And if you're wondering about the ambivalent end, just think about the line "Et tu, Brute?" in all its implication.
What do we find when we compare the style of Ides of March to the style of William Shakespeare? I think we find the closest a movie has ever come to rendering Shakespeare in a modern context.
(pretend I mentioned somewhere how Clooney has some excellent shots that are Shakespearian in flourish)
Did I like it:
Yes. A lot. From the trailers, I didn't think Ides looked Oscar-worthy. I still sort of feel that way. But I wouldn't be surprised if it were nominated for Best Picture. I just don't think it LOOKS like the typical Oscar movie. Something about the cinematography.
But I do feel like there is something that's missing? I can't think of what. But whatever it is, I don't care, because the end of this movie is so fucking cool to me. Why? Because I didn't get it. I mean, I got that Gosling may or may not tell the truth, but I didn't get the implication of Julius Casesar. It wasn't until two or three hours after the movie that I finally connected the title to the final scene and the final scene to Julius Casesar.
I liked Clooney's directing. Gosling was cool. But I really loved seeing Giamatti and Seymour Hoffman in the same movie. I really like both of them. I liked the duality of their characters too. They were similar in body-type and demeanor and it made the career seem very...fated/doomed. They could remake this movie and have the roles played by actors with contrasting physical features and speech inflection, and we'd read something completely different from the contrast. Or maybe we wouldn't read anything at all? The same thing with the intern we see near the end. She's dressed exactly like Rachel. We read into this. Change her age, her clothing, her gender: different interpretation.
Oh. And Evan Rachel Wood is a fucking knockout. She dominates the camera.
What's subtle and cool as well: in the last scene (not really a spoiler), Gosling is about to give an interview, and a speech by Clooney is playing in the background talking about Dignity and Honor. It's a hint as to what Gosling is about to do.
There's a bunch of other stuff to talk about. I could gush. I'll stop.
What It's Good For:
-girls who like to stare at Gosling
-discussion about the end
-balance of art and entertainment
-extremely political people may hate the movie
-because of the setting, you'll think it's a political movie and then you'll get mad because you're a republican and the movie doesn't have any republicans or you're a liberal and you think liberals don't act the way the characters act. So if you are political sit down with an open mind.
-nothing much happens
-the big plot twist could be seen as cliche
% Character / % Actor's personality
Seymour Hoffman: 70/30
Giamatti: 10/90 (I thought Giamatti was acting more like Giamatti than a character...which I'm fine with because I like him)
Wood: 70/30 (her presence is drastically different than say The Wrestler or King of California)
-Clooney (as director): Good Night, and Good Luck
-Clooney (as actor): Up in the Air; The American; Ocean's Eleven; O Brother, Where Art Thou?
-Gosling: The Notebook; Blue Valentine; Crazy, Stupid, Love; Drive
-Seymour Hoffman: The Big Lebowski; Before the Devil Knows You're Dead; Doubt
-Giamatti: Sideways; The Illusionist; The Last Station
-Tomei: The Wrestler
-Political thrillers: Notorious; The Lives of Others; The Manchurian Candidate; The Ghost Writer
-Ambiguous endings: No Country for Old Men; Inception; 2001: A Space Odyssey; Blade Runner