George Clooney is a rare star—as good-looking as Cary Grant, as committed to social activism as Michael Moore. He’s willing to use his cultural power for something more than the lucrative repetition of a blockbuster bloody alien invasion artistic travesty every other summer. Instead, Clooney’s films are often meaty explorations of truth-telling and the common good. Good Night, and Good Luck is an indictment of media distortion; Solaris reflects the meaning of love and grief and the spaces in between; and his TV version of Fail Safe (aired in 2000) warns against the consequences of backing up international relations with the threat of nuclear attack.
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Clooney’s new movie, The Ides of March, serves as a thoughtful and entertaining mirror for next year’s presidential election. Like Robert Redford’s Lions for Lambs, it presents policies we could believe in (Clooney’s candidate offers realistic ways to reverse climate change and reduce the threat of terrorism—and is wise enough to realize that these may actually be two sides of a coin). Ides also seeks to transcend partisanship by avoiding a rose-tinted vision of secular liberalism, and it challenges the mythological hypocrisy that goads the public to permit almost any bad behavior from a president (war, execution, economic degradation) as long as he at least pretends to maintain moral Puritanism in private life.
The Ides of March is a smart, disturbing film, and an invitation to ask if we have reached rock bottom in our politics—which may be the best place from which to work for change.
In other fall movies, Ryan Gosling, the protagonist in Ides, is the lead in Drive, a fantastically stylish thriller about the pointlessness of speed and style for its own sake. It’s a violent film, but doesn’t pretend that violence is fun. The same goes for Warrior, which seeks to redeem American masculinity by imagining a middle ground between aggression and cowardice. It’s a moving cry for help for a generation of fatherless men trying to live for more than revenge.
Meanwhile, Moneyball is a classy light drama about baseball that somehow avoids the cliché of swelling orchestral strings when the final pitch results in revelation. It’s about living where you are and being your finest self. This is also the heart of The Guard, a quality dark comedy about redeeming a nation’s missteps. In The Guard the nation is Ireland, in The Ides of March it’s the U.S., but both are universal stories. They communicate that the most important power a human being has is the ability to choose the next step. And the next. And the next.
Gareth Higgins is a Sojourners contributing editor and executive director of the Wild Goose Festival. Originally from Northern Ireland, he lives in Durham, North Carolina.