OVERVIEW: Ryan’s great, George is great, and the others (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giametti, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood) are fantastic. It looked like a good movie. It sounded smart. I wanted to like it. But I didn’t. BEWARE: The Ides of March SPOILERS AHEAD.
CAST: Ryan Gosling: Stephen Meyers, deputy campaign manager. Philip Seymour Hoffman: Paul Zara, campaign manager. George Clooney: Mike Morris, a Democratic governor running for president. Paul Giamatti: Tom Duffy, rival campaign manager. Evan Rachel Wood: Molly Stearnes, hottie intern. Marisa Tomei: Ida Horowicz, a New York Times reporter
In a nutshell: Stephen is a whip-smart young political operative who’s worked on a lot of campaigns, but this one is different. He has truly fallen for his candidate. Morris is a new breed of politician, he believes; the world really would be a better place if he became president. (“You’ve drunk the Kool-Aid,” observes Ida. “I have. It was delicious,” he says.) When Duffy jokes that he just might have to poach Steven for his candidate, you think, Not gonna happen. Because the set-up scenes have already led you to believe that Stephen is smart, loyal (to the candidate and to his boss), and have I mentioned… smart?
That’s why the rest of the movie makes no sense.
1. Stephen sleeps with Molly, a young intern (20? 19?) who pursued him so aggressively I thought for sure she was a spy for the other campaign. He then finds out she’s the daughter of the chairman of Democratic National Committee. So… really? The DNC chair’s daughter was on his staff and he didn’t know?
2. He sleeps with her again. This time her phone rings at 2:30am, and it’s the Governor’s number on caller ID. After playing brazen hussy all this time, suddenly Molly is teary and troubled. She had a one-night stand with Governor Morris, she says, and she needed $900 from him to go to a clinic. Again, really? I found it hard to believe that 1) she needed to contact Morris for it, and 2) that he would be dealing with her directly on this point. I still think she’s a spy.
3. Also: Stephen doesn’t check her story with the governor. Nor does he have the sum in question. Instead, he cleans out the petty cash fund ($500), and fronts the rest from his own account. [3A. I realize this was pre-Super PAC, but wouldn’t the campaign have more than $500 in petty cash?]
The movie isn’t only about the trouble with the intern. Stephen has made a grave mistake. He agreed to meet with Duffy. And though he spurned Duffy’s offer to jump ship, he’s badly compromised when it turns out that Ida has found out about their meeting and is threatening to publish the account in the Times.
The sh*t hits the fan in every way imaginable: His campaign manager fires him. Duffy refuses to take him on. (Suck-ah!) And Molly ODs on booze and pain pills because she thinks Stephen’s going to expose her affair with Morris to the opposition.
[I was really wrong about Molly. I feel bad about that.]
The movie’s climax hangs on the fact that Stephen is able to blackmail Morris by suggesting that Molly left a suicide note implicating him. But the prelude to this is that he’s taken Molly’s cell phone from the scene of her death, and has heard her desperate pre-OD messages. But again: Was it wise to take the phone? Given her father’s high profile, wouldn’t it come out that she’d visited an abortion clinic? Wouldn’t questions be asked, and the investigators wonder where her cell phone went? And who she was calling?
Well, I guess not. Because the blackmail worked and now, at the movie’s end, we have a wiser, less trusting, more conniving young political operative, and a candidate who was (GASP!) not the man we had hoped he would be.
It’s never a movie’s fault that it wasn’t the movie you’d thought it would be. I get that. But with this cast and the potential for riveting political shenanigans, it just took a strange, non-interesting turn at the mid-point. It might have been better on stage (it was based on a 2008 play, Farragut North). I think they should have punched things up for the big screen. But what do I know: It was nominated for an Academy for Writing (Adapted Screenplay), losing to Clooney’s The Descendants.
Infield Rules rating: **