For my money, The Ides Of March — with its dark view of human nature and satisfyingly twisty plot — is one of the most entertaining films ever made about the political process.
George Clooney has directed four films so far, and The Ides Of March is by far his best. That’s not to say it will be his most critically acclaimed or commercially successful.
Most reviewers admired his Good Night, And Good Luck more than I did, and took at face value his reverential portrait of liberal broadcaster Edward R. Murrow.
'Splendid': George Clooney (pictured) is terrific at keeping his emotions hidden behind a friendly facade
The Ides Of March is a more world-weary, fearlessly realistic film, and the most persuasive account yet of working inside politics.
The anti-hero is Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), idealistic 30-year-old press secretary to an attractive, Left-wing Democrat Presidential hopeful, Pennysylvania governor Mike Morris (Clooney).
Stephen is second-in-command in the campaign to likeable, paunchy, chain-smoking veteran Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Stephen’s on the way up, and that attracts a beautiful young intern (Evan Rachel Wood), for whom power is evidently an aphrodisiac.
A different kind of temptation arrives in the seedy form of rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who offers Stephen a job in the team of the other Democrat candidate, Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell). Pullman’s more conservative politics don’t appeal to Stephen, and he tells his boss, Paul, about the approach.
Somehow news of the offer reaches a New York Times journalist (Marisa Tomei). Suddenly, Stephen’s future doesn’t look so bright. Paul lectures him on disloyalty and fires him. The job offer that seemed so certain fails to materialise. Has this na?ve young man been outwitted?
It would be unfair to reveal the bargaining card that could save Stephen’s career, though anyone familiar with the history of Democrat candidates Bill Clinton and John Edwards could hazard a guess.
The film is based on a stage play, Farragut North by Beau Willimon, but you’d never know it. Clooney and his co-writers Grant Heslov and Willimon (who spent part of his 20s working for Hillary Clinton) have cleverly opened it up and made flesh a character who was offstage in the play but here plays a pivotal role: the candidate, played by Clooney himself.
Clooney, like Gosling, is terrific at keeping his emotions hidden behind a friendly facade. Their confrontation at the end is more effective for being understated. Both are splendid.
The showiest performance is Hoffman’s — though Giamatti’s memorable demonstration of ratlike cunning means he steals every scene he’s in.
The film has plenty to say about the dirty compromises of politics, and it’s applicable to any political party on either side of the Atlantic. Every aspiring politician should see it, if only as a warning.