The Ides of March
Steven Meyers (Ryan Gosling: Drive) is on the fast track to political supremacy. He’s the social media director for the presidential campaign of Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney: The American). Morris seemed to be a long shot, but his rhetoric of hope and change has struck a chord with Americans sick of their government.
Sound familiar? It should. In fact, the governor should have been named Barack Edwards Dean, but I suppose Mike Morris flows off the tongue more easily.
Meyers believes in Morris with a childlike admiration one might have saved for astronauts or superheroes. He is second in command under campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman: Jack Goes Boating), admired by comely young interns and respected by political players as a rising genius in his field.
Standing between them and the presidency is a highly contested Ohio primary, where the good governor must defeat an evil moderate Democrat.
As the race narrows, Team Morris panics and urges the governor to make some under-the-table deals to ensure a victory. Morris, all virtue and dignity, refuses to bend. Just as Meyers realizes his dreams of the White House may end prematurely, he gets a call from rival campaign manager (Paul Giamatti: The Hangover Part II) and against his better judgment agrees to a clandestine meeting.
Zara, however, believes that Meyers might have defected to another candidate and bans him from the campaign. Lucky for Meyers, he’s just uncovered a giant skeleton in squeaky-clean Morris’ closet, one that will effectively kill any run for presidency. Will Meyers protect his fallen idol? Or will he play dirty politics?
The story isn’t bad, but for all his years as a vocal political advocate, Clooney and his characters seem astoundingly naive about the actual political process.
Each character is horrified that a Democrat would resort to dirty politics. Republicans are barely visible. Assuming the role of Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter books, they are the pervading evil that must be defeated, but never mentioned by name. Spooky!
Because Republicans are too scary to capture on film, Clooney resorts to making Morris’ moderate opponent an elephant in donkey’s clothing. He wants to cut taxes! He doesn’t drive a Prius! He has no environmental policies! He’s almost as bad as those who cannot be named!
All of this righteous indignation over the messy process of politics hamstrings both Clooney and Gosling.
Meyers is a veteran of political campaigns, but he falls to pieces when Morris is exposed as a flawed man with ugly urges. Who will he worship now? It’s all Gosling can do to keep a look of wide-eyed horror on his face for the better part of an hour. I am stumped by how Meyers survived on K-Street if he crumbles every time his candidate’s judgment lapses.
Clooney plays Morris like a saint with a dirty halo. He believes in America, in the environment and in kittens and puppies, too. He’s so good that it’s hard to believe the scandal actually happened. Maybe he was temporarily possessed by a Republican?
Only Giamatti and Hoffman seem to have fun with their roles as harried, chain-smoking campaign managers, willing to go to war and do what it takes to win. There is honor among these thieves, and it’s a joy to watch them work the system. Marisa Tomei (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) is another bright spot as a dogged reporter who plays both sides against the middle to get the best story.
While it’s clear that director Clooney is furious at the current political climate, he has no solutions on how to end the endless muckraking of politics. This makes the film a jumble of clichés with no thesis beyond the tired politics as dirty business. It’s not exactly astounding stuff, and his cynicism isn’t as enthralling as he thinks.