I have been so busy with consulting work lately that blog writing and even movie watching has become a bit of a luxury for me. So it was last night that my fiance ordered up The Ides of March on Pay Per View.
As quite some time has passed since it's initial release, I feel okay including some major plot spoilers in my analysis, so feel free to stop reading if you don't want to miss out on the suspense.
The Ides of March is a movie that manages to be cynical and breathtakingly naive at the same time. Yes there is the machiavellian interplay between the political staffers played by Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. But it is in the character of Governor Mike Morris that we get to see George Clooney's wet dream of what a Democratic presidential candidate should be.
In addition to being a Catholic turned agnostic, which I know would be a big deal in the US but not really here in Canada, Morris earnestly campaigns on a variety of jaw droppingly insane ideas like outlawing all internal combustion engines in vehicles within ten years. That is a policy that even Ralph Nader might consider to be overreaching.
Then of course he tells one interviewer don't even get me started on the gun issue, which I assume means he's going to take on the gun lobby. Good luck with that, but in the context of the movie it actually might make sense given the number of farmers and ranchers who would want to shoot Morris for trying to tell them they had to ditch their pick up trucks and start moving hay bales around their property with a plug in Prius.
But of course the big kicker comes when a young hottie intern played by Evan Rachel Wood makes the moves on Ryan Gosling's character, Stephen Meyers, who up til then has regarded candidate Mike Morris as the next coming of Jesus Christ. Meyers ends up having sex with the intern then gets his panties in a bunch when he discovers that this intern has also had sex with Governor Morris.
Up till this point Morris has been such a principled (and completely non pragmatic) politician that he won't even do a deal with another candidate Senator Thompson played by Jeffrey Wright, that would secure him the democratic nomination.
The even bigger shocker comes when the intern revels she is pregnant and that *gasp* Governor Mike Morris is the daddy. Again my eyes rolled. America's puritanical obsession with who else might be getting laid comes to the fore ground. In countries like France powerful male politicians are expected to have both wives and mistresses, only in America do they see it as such a huge deal. Given that Clooney lives most of the time in his luxury villa in Italy I am sure he is well aware of this significant cultural difference.
In any event political staffer Meyers dutifully arranges to provide the money the intern needs to get an abortion (in Canada it would be freely provided) so that's a nice shot at America's lack of public health care. But then bad timing results as instead of picking her up from the clinic he gets canned by Hoffman's character.
So now it's payback time and when word reaches the nubile intern that Meyers is bent on revenge she desperately tries to reach him and for a reason that is never explained in the movie he never answers his cell phone. I'm sorry but a political operative getting fired or not, is not simply going to blow off the one person who is the political bomb he may or may not wish to set off.
Meyers confronts Governor Mike Morris and blackmails him into taking him back, firing Hoffman's character and accepting Senator Thompson's request to make him the Vice-Presidential running mate. This then locks up the nomination for the Governor. At this point I felt almost relieved at Meyers forcing some modicum of political pragmatism onto the far too idealistic and inflexible Governor Morris.
But Meyers by then has discovered to his horror that the nubile intern, assuming the worst, has killed herself and all the feelings of angst and guilt start to well up. The movie ends on a dramatic cliff hanger where the audience is supposedly left wondering, will he do the right thing and spill his guts about the whole tawdry affair or will he do the cynical thing and simply proceed along?
Perhaps I came to this movie a little jaded having seen the money Hollywood has recently been pouring into Washington to get SOPA and PIPA passed. Those are both badly flawed pieces of legislation that would essentially break the freedom of the internet and could lead to the permanent closure of such sites as Wikipedia and Youtube. It is a reminder to all those who value personal freedom that the left is just as good as the right at passing laws that seek to curtail liberty.
But getting back to the movie which Clooney directed, starred in and wrote much of the screenplay for, the cliff hanger for me fell flat. The policies advocated by Governor Mike Morris may play well amongst the wealthy lefties living in tinsel town, but would get him laughed off stage in the real world. Such a candidate would confirm the very worst fears every Republican and Independent has about the Democrats and would ensure a Republican landslide.
Then there is Meyers. He screwed up by not being there for the intern as he had promised. He screwed up by not answering his phone, he also screwed up by taking a meeting with Giamatti's character which is what got him fired in the first place. So now after successfully blackmailing Governor Morris he is now going to do the ultimate screw up and blow up the entire situation by potentially spilling the beans and revealing all?
I am sure Clooney meant this as a morality tale and how things get complicated in politics. No it's not that complicated. From a real world perspective Governor Morris who is supposed to be a leading Democratic candidate would not be running on such an extreme left platform, Clooney's political fantasies notwithstanding.
Such a candidate would take the deal with Senator Thompson in order to secure the nomination, he would not dismiss it with righteous indignation. And yeah Meyers would get fired for being such an idiot. Or in reality an idiot like him would never get to that level in the first place on such a campaign. As for the intern the problem would get handled competently and with sufficient hush money to make damn sure no one let that particular cat out of the bag.
But even if there had been a tragic suicide due to Meyer's incompetence, is his response going to be to tell all? How does committing political suicide and taking Morris et al with him serve as any sort of restorative justice? Oh because it reveals Governor Morris to be a bit of hypocrite? So what welcome to the real world where we're all hypocrites, just ask Newt Gingrich, and yes there have always been young women who are sexually attracted to older men in positions of power, and it will always be thus.
In the end The Ides of March says more about the political world George Clooney wishes existed in America rather than the one that actually does.