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George Clooney’s quirkiest film makes a Democrat the villain

Actor George Clooney has been very supportive of President Barack Obama, one reason the film 'The Ides of March' surprised viewers.
Actor George Clooney has been very supportive of President Barack Obama, one reason the film 'The Ides of March' surprised viewers.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

George Clooney has publicly declared he’s a lifelong Democrat. With the release of The Ides of March in late 2011, it’s natural to wonder why, as President Barack Obama seeks reelection, Clooney would depict his own party in a negative light. Clooney directed the film and he co-wrote the screenplay. He also starred in the film.

Clooney plays the character Gov. Mike Morris who is locked in a brutal primary race with Sen. Pullman. The senator has no first name in the film, perhaps symbolic of depersonalization of the opponent in politics. In an interview with ABC News, Clooney explained:

"We wanted to talk about how we elect people and the deals we make along the way…I knew that the only way I was going to be allowed to do it, because I'm a Democrat and I've been sort of loud about it at times, was that I'd make him a Democrat so that the flaws are of a Democrat."

Clooney may have also considered the commercial appeal. Republicans have typically been portrayed in a negative light in films like Recount and Game Change. Did Clooney try something different in hopes of enhancing the bottom line?

The Ides of March sets a dark tone with the first scene. Ryan Gosling, playing the part of Stephen Myers, is doing his job as a campaign adviser by checking the sound system at a site where his candidate Morris will speak. Myers, in a matter of fact tone, tells the stagehands to pad up the platform so the governor’s opponent doesn’t look taller. Myers deals with this in a manner completely devoid of emotion or even enthusiasm. That tone permeates the entire plot.

The primary thrust of the film centers around the nuts and bolts of a campaign, but there’s a subtheme of backstabbing, lying and corruption as the characters move towards the primary race. The viewer can’t help noticing the absence of joy for all involved in the political process. The only thing that really matters to every character is winning.

The single motif related to honor comes as a debate on loyalty after Meyers makes it known he met with the opposition who claimed to want to hire him.

Clooney did get a dig in at Republicans, however. During Meyers’ meeting with the opposition, the campaign manager tells him that Republicans are “better at the game.” Republicans are “more ruthless and cunning.” The manager ends the diatribe by saying Democrats don’t “get in the mud with the f****** elephants.”

That scene was the sole denunciation of the GOP, but the irony is apparent in light of what Democrats are portrayed as doing.

Meyers undergoes an awakening of sorts. As the plot progresses, a tragedy related to a secondary character unfolds, a nod perhaps to Shakespeare’s tragedy on Julius Caesar who was told by a soothsayer to “Beware the Ides of March.”

Clooney does very well in his role as Gov. Morris. Despite some despicable personal behavior, Clooney’s character still comes off as charming.

The viewer is aware that the outwardly idealistic candidate who embraces radical environmental philosophy and touts the importance of education is not a very moral person. Nevertheless, just as in real life, Morris fails to sink to the level of arch villain. He does well in the polls anyway.

The Ides of March didn’t draw widespread acclaim in spite of very gifted actors like Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei. One reason may be the lack of emotional engagement between the characters and the viewer. A tragedy occurs but there is little for the viewer to mourn. It’s possible Clooney patterned the art too closely to life.

Clooney, who held a fundraiser in Switzerland for Obama in 2008, has said he will support the president's reelection. That statement, in light of the dark themes projected by the characters and plot in the film, makes this work Clooney’s quirkiest to date.

Some Democrats might wonder what Clooney had in mind when he released a negative film about Democrats ahead of a critical election.

Republicans, on the other hand, are probably appreciative of the fact there's at least one recent film that doesn't vilify the GOP.

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