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Reader alert: The following comments address the movie The Ides of March. Familiarity with the plot is assumed as I will not provide a summation.

Sometimes how a movie ends tips the balance as to whether time was spent well in the theater. In the days since seeing the George Clooney written and directed film The Ides of March, I realize that I fell initially for the 3 big “S’s”– dished here in plentiful supply– ie Style, Stars, and a certain amount of Storytelling craft. These factors delayed my recognition that I had been duped. They merely disguised a lack of substance.

The hook and the conceit of the movie is to depict a drama designed to make one feel, “Oh, this must be what really happens in a political campaign.”

In this case we follow the turn from idealistic activist and key campaign operative Stephen Meyers played by Ryan Gosling into a hardcore cynic. Meyers is not just driven by idealism to his political cause. Meyers has supreme ambition to match his passions, otherwise he would not be a major player in running the campaign of Governor Mike Morris to be the Democratic Party candidate for president.

However, this is a film where all the major characters reveal that they have a price for selling out their idealistic motivations. Such a situation became so monomaniacal that I ultimately realized whatever character complexity gets revealed, it is all of one hue.

The final fade out of the movie makes Clooney’s message clear. The camera lingers on the face of Stephen Meyers. In his eyes we now see how events have transformed him in a matter of days from fully committed fighter for his causes (and someone who attempts to influence Governor Morris to his views whenever possible) to a person who now and forever will only look out for #1.

Clooney ladles the message without a wit of subtlety. Stephen Meyers is now one of THEM. The system inevitably corrupts all who enter it. I, at least, was rooting that Gosling might wake up to find a pod next to him borrowed from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

If Clooney is going to conk his audience on the head with a mallet, why not elevate the message to a dimension that has some meat on it. Go Apocalypse Now. Make it a true horror. But you can’t turn something into what it can’t be. It turns out we were never in very deep to begin with.