Is it possible for any political candidate to win and yet remain true to his or her original values? Movies about dirty politics such as “Wag the Dog”, “All the President’s Men”, “The Manchurian Candidate”, “Primary Colors”, “Bob Roberts” and “The Candidate” (to name a few) has yet another winner in this category–“The Ides Of March”. Based upon the Beau Willimon play, Farragut North, “The Ides of March” explores new ground as well as covering familiar territory about media’s role in politics. (Willimon, by the way, worked on Howard Dean’s campaign for president).
With a star-studded cast, “The Ides of March” focuses on a press secretary, Stephen Meyers (the fabulous Ryan Gosling) as an idealistic media wizard who believes in his boss, Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) currently running in a pivotal Ohio primary for the Democratic presidential nomination. As the movie opens, Governor Morris is an uncompromising, idealistic liberal who believes he can make a difference. Meyers has obtained his prestigious job due to his friendship with Morris’ seasoned campaign manager, Paul Zara (underplayed subtly by Philip Seymour Hoffman). The opposing candidate, Senator Pullman, has an equally experienced campaign advisor, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). All those who are driving the campaign strategy are pragmatists–cynical and cold-blooded analysts– except for the young Stephen Meyers. Above all, however, Stephen Meyers believes mostly in himself.
Gosling yet again is the touchstone of the film, playing with a ferociousness and intensity we have seen in “Murder by Numbers”, “Lars and the Real Girl”, “Blue Valentine” and “Drive”. In the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the Ohio primary, Steve is obsessively focused on the governor’s campaign victory. Others do not register on his radar: the young intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), the New York Times journalist (Marisa Tomei), even his boss Paul Zara except when they can support his move up the ladder. Personal and political ambitions are inextricably intertwined. Motives are suspicious. Mistrust and betrayal are inescapable. Concealment reveals to astonishing effect!
The 2012 US presidential campaign is a year away, and yet many people seem already discouraged and demoralized. Which raises the salient question about political reality in the US today– If you’re too principled to play dirty, can you be a winner or is the game stacked against you? Paul Zara (Hoffman’s character)–in one of my favorite scenes–complains that Democrats are so worried about being accused of not playing fair that they inevitably lose to Republicans, who are not so scrupulous. It’s why the Democrats perpetually have to play catch-up. They never figure out how to play the game themselves. Perhaps a bit polemical, the movie’s theme remains the same: the winner in the campaign game is the one with the biggest advantage–shaping the media and backroom payoffs for personal gain. Those who do not consider politics a blood sport shouldn’t play.
“The Ides of March” is a thoughtful political drama, which may not result in box office success. The story is not a narrative of hope. However, the last shot of the film is well worth the price of a ticket in itself: brilliant, chilling, and epitomizing editorial self-control. No other ending could do so much with so little. A masterpiece of restraint!