The Ides of March might be the first post-Obama movie, and as such it’s an important film — not for what it thinks it is saying but for what it is actually says about the neverending disillusionment of liberals who, despite heroic efforts, can never quite escape reality.
The movie is entirely a far-left project, based on a play by a former Howard Dean aide, produced in part by Leonardo DiCaprio, and starring George Clooney, who also co-wrote and directed it. Watching it is like being a fly on the wall in a room full of ardent liberals who don’t realize they’re being watched, or how ridiculous they look — especially when they believe they are being very mature, deep, and serious.
The Ides of March takes place on the eve of an Ohio Democratic primary in which two contenders are neck and neck. One of them, a liberal Arkansas senator, we barely meet. The other is the handsome, charming Gov. Mark Morris (George Clooney), who incessantly defends liberal social issues (there is scarcely a word about economics in the entire film). Despite the extremism of this character (who disavows any religious beliefs and believes gay marriage is a basic civil right, in both cases placing him well to the left of the 2008 Obama campaign), we are led to believe that he will easily win the general election if he can defeat his Democratic rival. To stop this from happening, Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives launch “Operation Chaos,” in which they exhort the right wing to vote for Morris’s rival in the open Ohio primary.
Morris’s chief tacticians are his crusty, cynical campaign manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a young, idealistic deputy (Ryan Gosling) who is only 30 but is already a political superstar due to his skill at spinning reporters such as Ida (Marisa Tomei), a New York Times writer who is constantly trying to leverage gossip to force the players involved to give her bigger scoops.
Spoilers lie ahead, but it wouldn’t be proper to write about the film without mentioning how idiotic its plot is. For all of the “insidery” goings on and the air of knowingness that accompanies the scenes inside the campaign office, we are obliged to believe that it constitutes a major scoop when Ida finds out the Gosling character had a beer with the chief (Paul Giamatti) of the rival campaign. There are all sorts of innocent reasons why these men might meet (they are, after all, both liberal Democrats), and even in the Times it would hardly constitute a major story. What would the headline be: “Political Operatives Have Conversation in Bar”? Yet this paltry item of micro-trivia sets off a chain reaction that could have historic consequences.
The other unbelievably moronic plot element involves a slutty intern (Evan Rachel Wood) who, after a one-night stand with Gov. Morris, gets pregnant — and is unable to come up with $900 for an abortion. Her dad is a Catholic ex-senator and the head of the DNC whom she dare not ask for the money (even though, back in reality, virtually all Catholic Democrats are vehement defenders of abortion). But a girl who grew up in the upper reaches of Washington must have hundreds of rich friends she could ask to loan her $900. Instead, she goes directly to Gov. Morris to ask him for the money, which threatens to derail his campaign.