October 7, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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THE IDES OF MARCH:  Watch It At Home – An Excellent Play Becomes a Merely Good Movie


The Ides of March, one of the most eagerly awaited of this year’s festival crop, is more entertaining than it is good. Oddly both low-key and melodramatic, claptrap and high-minded drama, it represents a series of curious choices by director/co-screenwriter/co-star George Clooney. 


The film is based on a crackling good play called Farragut North by Beau Willimon, but although Willimon is one of the credited screenwriters, the script makes broad changes in both the story and tone of the play. Both concern Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), a rising star in the campaign team of Mike Morris (Clooney), a Governor running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Stephen works for campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), but on a fateful day when Tom is out of town, he takes a call from the opposition’s campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), an act that sets quite a few lives in turmoil.

In the play, the aftereffects of the opposition’s call was the main storyline, and Stephen was an overtly ambitious, even arrogant young man. The Ides script introduces an entirely new story about intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) and her relationship with the campaign, which amps up the plot considerably. Stephen is also more idealistic at the start than he was in Farragut. The grafting of the new plotline onto the original results in tonal inconsistency and some plot fogginess.

Clooney’s direction is also uneven. The movie starts out too muted for its theatrical origins, all the actors underplaying. By the end, we’re in full -on soap opera mode, with Phedon Papamichael’s initially naturalistic photography reaching into Godfather territory. None of this is a favor to the extremely fine cast, which is hard-pressed to traverse Clooney’s shift in tone. It also has the effect of turning the movie’s final act into an exercise in familiar political cynicism.

For all this, Ides of March is smart and compelling most of the time. The scenes that preserve Willimon’s play still zing, and while the new plot is less convincing than the old, it’s still fun. Oscar hopes may be more of a reach than the film’s credentials had seemed to promise, but Ides is still worth a vote.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."