The Ides of March is a dark, cynical thriller about the campaign for nomination of George Clooney’s Governor Mike Morris. From the beginning, Ryan Gosling’s Stephen Myers, a political wunderkind, sees Morris as a once in a lifetime figure: a candidate who can genuinely inspire progress, all the while righteously refusing compromise or backdoor politics. But in the Ides of March, there is no such creature. This is a story of moral compromise and the inevitable fallibility of even the most benevolent and noble.
Ides of March is a film of constant betrayals and hidden agendas. In the early proceedings, Myers takes a meeting with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who compels him to switch sides. However, the story doesn’t really get going until Myers stumbles upon a secret capable of demolishing any campaign: Morris had an affair with, and impregnated, a young intern. From here, the film becomes one immense game of high stakes poker between expert players.
When Philip Seymour Hoffman’s campaign manager Paul Zara reveals to Myers that it was he who leaked news of the secret meeting with Duffy, he does so because he is confident he has control over the situation. As an aside, this scene is an obvious instance of a supposedly intelligent character being significantly dumber than the audience. Due to the fact that Zara is the only remaining unabsolved party with knowledge of the meeting, most discerning audience members should be able to trace with the information presented to Myers that Zara is responsible for the leak, and yet Myers is floored. If an audience is to believe Myers is resourceful and smart, a scene like this discredits him badly.
If the Ides of March doesn’t value intelligence, it certainly holds knowledge in high esteem. As Myers accumulates information, he gains power. Independently, he arranges an abortion for the young intern. When he is the first on the scene of her suicide, the consequences of the politics and machinations of the powerful are laid bare on the screen. And yet the game continues. Myers arranges a one on one secret meeting with Morris, and attempts to blackmail his way not only back into the campaign, but into Zara’s elevated perch. In a fantastic scene, Myers claims to have a suicide note detailing all of Morris’ illicit behavior, and Morris (along with the audience) are left to discern whether Myers is bluffing or not. The stakes are success or ruin for both men.
In one of the film’s final scenes, the intern’s father laments the loss of his innocent, pure daughter. He says she made the world better. Though this father has not been a presence in the narrative at all up until this point, his emotions and his loss are palpable none the less because he gives voice to what has truly been lost. Ides of March is a film about the decay and destruction of idealism. The success of each character in this film is directly proportionate to their corruption. Its twists and turns (with one noted exception) are elegantly orchestrated, and it proves its theme powerfully with its elaborate and propulsive plotting. Clooney, evidently, has great taste in source material.