Politics, particularly the kind involved in a campaign for office, can be a rich source of entertainment. In particular, the razzle dazzle spectacle of American presidential politics and the high stakes involved in campaigning for the most influential seat of power in the world is a wonderful setting for cinematic melodrama.
George Clooney’s The Ides of March is a taut thriller that follows the fortunes of Stephen Meyers, a young ambitious campaign advisor who works for Democratic party candidate Governor Mike Morris. Meyers, played by Ryan Gosling, reports to a world weary experienced campaign advisor Paul, who is wonderfully portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. And if you’re going to have a film with an equally grizzled rival campaigner in Tom Duffy, who better than Paul Giamatti to play the role?
Meyers is riding high on life when we first meet him. His candidate Mike Morris is ahead in the polls which should ensure that Meyers gets a cushy White House job at the end of the campaign. Meanwhile he’s got a hot intern in the department throwing herself at him. Political journos like Ida Horowicz are constantly schmoozing with him to get a lead on a news story. And his reputation is getting so good that he gets a call from Duffy to meet in secret so that they can discuss a private matter…
The Ides of March is a terrific pot boiler. It starts slow, sets the scene, gradually introduces a cast of characters and then lets them play against one another as they all jostle for influence and control. But what we come to find in this film is that on the campaign trail, success can be fleeting, knowledge is power and it doesn’t discriminate against the established heirarchys. As a campaign advisor, you’re only on the fast track for a big career and big money if your candidate still has a chance of winning and the voting public can be fickle. That journalist who begs for news stories and the inside scoop isn’t so kind when she has the opportunity to leak a damaging story. And you probably shouldn’t have had that one night stand with the intern in case she does something rash. Everyone involved on the campaign trail is inter-connected with one another somehow and the relationships are often parasitic and counter balanced in nature. It’s impossible for everyone to win. For someone to get ahead, it almost has to come at someone else’s expense.
I really enjoyed this film. There are plenty of good performances from some fine actors, none moreso than Clooney himself. On face value, his character Mike Morris is not too far removed from the real life Clooney who is dabbles in politics and campaigning for social causes. But like everyone else in this film, he is not invincible and given the right reasons, he can be influenced into making some questionable decisions. It’s a complex social game and a great exploration of how it can play out.