Physically compare experienced political operatives with their interns. More than wrinkled faces and less hair up top separates them. The interns still have fresh ideals and expectations of the candidates they choose to support; the experienced staffers know better. There was a point on a campaign in their past where their own ideals took a left turn; a point where reality jumped up and showed them no candidate is perfect and a time when it became less about the future of tomorrow and more about just beating the other guy.
Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is at the intersection. He is the number two on Governor Mike Morris’s (George Clooney) presidential campaign. He not only shares the Governor’s political platform, but believes in the man himself. It is not the hero worship of the interns he supervises, but it is not the same almost numb feeling the number one campaign managers sometimes show. Stephen’s boss and the Governor’s main guy is Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman). He is on board because he shares in the political faith, but he knows more and it shows. His shoulders are hunched, he smokes too much, and he believes in loyalty to the candidate even more than he believes in his own mother.
The Governor is towards the end of a tight Democratic primary and there is only one more candidate between him and the general election, one which will most likely favor the Democrat in the race. The campaign has stopped for the week in Ohio which is fast becoming a make or break primary state. Stephen and Paul are expertly drafting speeches, maneuvering the candidate where he needs to be, and cozying up to the New York Times political reporter Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) for some favorable coverage. The other candidate is also in town though and he has his own political attack dog in Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Tom knows the real deal just as much as Paul and sees in Stephen what they all used to be, smart and talented, yet still a bit wide-eyed.
Speeches are made, debates are contested, and each side is courting various political kingmakers. Every time it comes down to Stephen to make a decision, it becomes more and more a matter of what is right or what will get my candidate elected. What if you do the right thing but it causes your candidate to fall in the polls? What if you compromise your values and it gives your team the boost it needs to clear that last hurdle? Stephen has some tough choices to make and what The Ides of March really comes down to is will Stephen the individual still be the same somewhat fresh idealist he was at the beginning of the week?
The Ides of March has a serious and tight screenplay and it matched those characters from the page with tried and true heavy hitters. Ryan Gosling is fast becoming one of Hollywood’s premier true actors but even he loses the screen to the fascinating performances of Hoffman, Giamatti, and Tomei. These guys must tire of waiting around for that perfect script to come along because when it does, they are usually first in line to give it what they’ve got, and in The Ides of March, these three knock it out of the park. Gosling and Clooney are no slouches and must carry a lot of the film, but their roles are not as juicy as the supporting cast. Evan Rachel Wood also shines as a campaign intern.
The Ides of March opened this year’s Venice Film Festival and won its Brian Prize, the first American film to do so. The Brian Prize champions the values of rationality, human rights, expression, etc… and it must have been an easy choice. Scripts like this one do not come around once a week. True actors such as Hoffman, Giamatti, and Tomei rarely latch on to roles in the same film where they each have in-depth, staggering monologues. When one of them gets going, they could go on the same spiel for minutes on end with hardly an interruption. The choices people make really can change them as an individual. Do you choose the right thing every time or is the end all that matters no matter what the means?