Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is one charismatic politician. He’s smart, witty and his rhetoric is so unabashedly liberal that the Democratic Party is close to choosing him as their party’s nominee. It’s no wonder that idealistic press secretary Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) supports him with the eagerness of a political naif. Myers has worked on a lot of political campaigns before, but in a world of political compromise and compromising principles, he has fallen for a candidate he believes is the “real deal.” Myers’ brush with reality lies at the core of the new political thriller, ‘The Ides of March.’
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The story begins a few days before the important Ohio Democratic primary, which pits Morris against the more moderate Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell). Morris is leading in the polls but Pullman, backed by support from Republicans and independents who are allowed to vote in the primary, is gaining strength. Early on in the film, Myers accepts a meeting with one of Pullman’s main strategists (played by a cunning Paul Giamatti), which sets the stage for the rest of the film. Without going into details, the story eventually finds Myers questioning his loyalties to the Morris campaign and learning his candidate isn’t the political savior that Myers hoped he was.
The film, directed by Clooney, is based on the play ‘Farragut North’ by Beau Willimon. Clooney co-wrote the screenplay with frequent collaborator Grant Heslov as well as Willimon.
Because the story predominantly takes place before a Democratic primary, nearly all of the main characters are liberals and support Democratic ideals. When Morris notes that his religious faith comes from the Constitution and that terrorism and wars would disappear if we stopped needing to drill for gas, the film’s liberal ideology is loud and clear especially in the early scenes.
However, what is surprising is how Clooney shows the flaws of the Democratic politician he plays. This political story is cynical about politics and political candidates and is willing to show that the fantasy that political supporters buy into is sometimes just that: a fantasy. Myers starts out not believing in dirty tricks and not wanting his candidate to make underhanded deals to get elected. That changes as his political education gets underway. For those of us who have watched the idealism of the Obama campaign transform into the political coldheartedness of the Obama administration, the ideas showcased in ‘The Ides of March’ are clearly relevant today.
‘The Ides of March’ succeeds based on more than just a well-told story and Clooney’s visual style, which ranges from showing backroom deals being cut in dark rooms to the bright lights of a political debate. It succeeds because it’s smart about the political game. The film highlights the naïve campaign employee who feels like he’s met the one candidate who can change the world and the bitter campaign strategists who know that they are selling a fantasy to reporters like the one played by Marisa Tomei who realizes politicians are always flawed.
‘March’ understands how the all the political chess pieces move across the board.
It should be noted that this film is a pure and simple fantasy. Some of the events in it feel a little forced, as if some of the plot developments were only added to move the story from one place to another. It’s obvious that some of the deals cut during the film would never be made in the real world. It’s also easy to criticize some of the film’s rhetoric, especially when Norris notes that the public will forgive unnecessary wars and bankrupting a nation but would have a hard time getting over a sex scandal.
Despite such flaws, I fell in love with this film. ‘The Ides of March’ is a brilliant political thriller about strategy, loyalty and idealism that is willing to unmask candidates who build their campaigns on slogans, not policies.