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.
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.