The Ides of March: Shakespearian Project

By Tiffiny Whitney · October 10, 2011

Seriously…Shakespeare stole all the good ideas four hundred years ago, forcing Hollywood to endlessly cycle through his and other classic writers’ plots for full or partial derivations constituting a good chunk of the movies over the past few years.  In the case of Ides of March, which is actually an adaptation of the play Farragut North—which is itself a modern-day Julius Caesar—it’s actually not that bad of a take on the classic tale of a tragic hero and his fall.  And while “not bad” does make it worthwhile to see (though, more so for the standout performances than the story), Ides of March lacks the pacing, suspense, and stakes necessary to make it a great film.

Though it doesn’t follow Julius Caesar point for point, Ides of March unmistakably draws just enough of its plot from the classic Shakespearean play.  The story revolves around the idealistic Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) as the junior campaign manager for Mike Morris (George Clooney), who is the governor of Pennsylvania running against a senator in the democratic primaries for president.  Under the wing of Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the senior campaign manager, both Meyers and Zara feel they have the primary “in the bag” for Morris, if only they could capture the key support of delegates in Ohio.  Fearing the skillful cunning of Stephen Meyers, the campaign manager for opposing candidate, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), engineers a plot to make Meyers appear disloyal so that he is fired from the campaign.  Jilted and disillusioned as to the characters of the people he once worked for and idealized, Meyers resolves to get his job back or take the campaign down in flames with him by exposing an affair Morris has with intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Woods). 

There are a couple things that, from a screenwriting perspective, Ides of March does very well, most notably of which are its characters.  Though it may be in-part due to nearly each character having some sort of Shakespearean counterpart already written in four-hundred-year-old literature, the Ides writers have done a great job.  Screenwriters have to think of their characters as more than just imaginary friends to be successful—they have to view them as living, breathing people separated from the real world only by the screen.  The three screenwriters of the film (Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon—author of Farragut North) definitely took some time to craft their characters. 

Stephen Meyers is what you would expect of his Shakespearean twin, Brutus.  He’s an idealistic, smart-as-all-get-out type of guy who honestly believes he’s found an incorruptible leader in Governor Morris, but becomes disillusioned in his idealism by his own vanity and the revelation of infidelity between the governor and an intern.  Tom Duffy is our Cassius, meeting in the dark to sow the seeds of discourse.  And, of course, leave it to Clooney to make himself Julius Caesar as the idealistic democratic candidate with a dark side—Governor Mike Morris.

In a character-driven film with few characters, it is easier to more fully develop people to mirror the reality of the plethora of facets that make up a human being.  In the limited and sometimes convoluted storyline of Ides of March, the sheer amount of characters within the film prevented the writers from truly developing their characters with the same depth and ease of Shakespeare.  That being said, however, they did succeed in isolating the core of what makes each of their characters tick.  By magnifying each of those characteristics, the writers clearly delineate for the audience the heroes and villains, while also making us question whether we really do like the hero, given his “change of heart” when he becomes disillusioned to the reality of his situation.

One thing that Ides failed in doing for me, however, was the establishment of appropriate pacing and high stakes.  You watch the trailer for Ides, and you think somehow that you’re going to embark on a political thriller.  What we actually end up with is a semi-slow, intellectual examination at the politics within politics.  The problem, however, is that the stakes are never high enough given the hype that accompanied the film.  You’d think that losing one’s job and an election would be—but the film does, for some reason, never completely deliver.  Like, if they lost the election, people might be sad…but oh well.  So what?  There is no consequence really to him losing—or even in exposing the governor’s affair.  To walk in and get what was actually offered was… slightly disappointing.

No matter—because if there’s one film to go see just because of who’s starring in it, it’s this one.  No where can you see two of our finest leading men—Clooney and Gosling—combined with two of Hollywood’s greatest character actors—Giamatti and Hoffman.  While the film itself may not be one you’ll remember twenty years from now, the performances delivered by our leading men (and even Evan Rachel Woods) are standout and worth the price of admission alone.  I’d be the first to forgive a mediocre film as long as the ride was good, and I think most audiences will agree.  The ride itself on The Ides of March isn’t all that exciting—but if Clooney is the one helming it, I’ll always get in line.