There is a podcast called “Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History” that I like to listen to and is arguably the best podcast out there. It’s about history, and his most recent string of shows was about the transition of the Roman Empire from a republic to a dictatorship, concluding with the death of Caesar. For anyone who knows this story, they also know that Julius Caesar was warned that harm would come to him on the Ides of March, also known as March 15th. Most commonly, the phrase is associated with betrayal –a pack of angry conspiring senators, led by Brutus, who beat and kill Caesar. So, naturally, when I saw the title of this film, I expected some big betrayal and the previews all but show it to us. Imagine my surprise when there was nary a betrayal to be found.
Mike Morris (George Clooney) is the governor of Pennsylvania and one of two remaining candidates for the democratic presidential nomination. He’s as straight as an arrow, stands for all that is good, and cares about the most important issues of our day – abortion, taxing rich people, and electric cars. (In case you didn’t catch my sarcasm in that last point, those issues are among those that are nearly meaningless when it comes to the big picture, but are highly touted during elections because they get people’s blood boiling. If this movie were about republicans, it would be abortion, lowering taxes, and ethanol.) The campaign battle is currently in Ohio, where the slogan is “where Ohio goes, so goes the rest of the country,” meaning that whoever wins the Ohio delegation, will win the remaining states and nomination. (I don’t know if this is a real phrase, but considering the country is spiraling down the drain, maybe other states should make up their own minds.) Heading Morris’ campaign are Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his assistant, Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). The three of them all believe in being honest and playing things straight; refusing to make deals with people for their votes.
Opposing them, is Senator Pullman and his campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who have no problem with making deals because Duffy knows that his boss is basically a piece of shit who doesn’t stand a chance against Morris in an honest campaign. In a show of political corruption, the delegates are controlled by Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) and he tells both campaign managers that he will support them if he is given the job of secretary of state upon their presidential victory. This is the kind of politician we are all used to - the kind that doesn’t give a crap about the people he represents or the path needed to achieve power. He’s also loathed by Morris who refuses to “cross that line.” What kills me about this is that he eventually tells us that he’s continually crossed other lines during the campaign, admitting that he really isn’t the straight shooter he would have us believe. It gets worse though.
The movie’s plot really starts when Duffy begs Meyers to meet with him because he has something important to tell Meyers. Knowing that he shouldn’t, Meyers meets with Duffy to hear him out and shoot him down. Duffy tells Meyers about Thompson’s deal and offers Meyers a job with them and “the winning team.” Meyers shoots him down, then tells Zara everything. Zara rewards Meyers by firing him, not because Meyers met Duffy but because Meyers didn’t tell Zara first, stating that loyalty is the only thing that matters. Hold on; that makes no sense. What’s more loyal than your assistant gathering information and immediately reporting back with it? Meanwhile, Meyers had started a relationship with one of the campaign interns, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), and discovers a very juicy bit of information that could destroy Morris.
At this point, I’ve already told you too much information, but enough to assure you that at no point is anyone ever really betrayed. Was Meyers’ meeting with Duffy a betrayal? Not really, considering Meyers’ ran straight home to Zara to spill his guts and fill them in on Zara’s strategy. What about Zara firing Meyers? A little stronger case, but the man did have a point in that Meyers probably should have told him about it before doing it, so I’m still going to say no. How about Molly accidentally giving up Morris’ secret? Nah, it was an accident. Plus, regardless of what happens through the rest of the movie, Meyers’ goal is always to help Morris win. Maybe the betrayal is in Morris backing Meyers’ firing? Still no, considering Zara is his main guy and Morris trusts him completely (even though Morris tells Meyers early on that he pays Meyers to tell him the truth). There are several more possibilities for betrayal, but all of them can easily be dismissed by circumstances. At no point in the film does anyone truly betray anyone else, unless we pretend we’re children and consider betrayal something as simple stealing a lollipop.
I think the point that Clooney (as the director, producer, and writer) was trying to make was that politics corrupt everyone involved. Unless you have your head completely up your ass, this is not a surprise, and is further proof that celebrities actually do have their heads up their own collective asses. What is completely insincere about this film is Clooney’s attempt at depicting the democrats as a bunch of pure, honest people who only sink to underhanded strategies because they cannot beat the mud-wallowing republicans otherwise (this is stated in the film by Duffy, in almost those exact words). I like George Clooney the actor, but Clooney the political commentator can go fuck himself. The democrats are just as corrupt as the republicans and to believe otherwise is delusion. As far as I’m concerned, the only option we, as a country, have is to invite every politician with an R or D next to their name on a cruise and commit the ultimate betrayal of torpedoing that ship. If they can make it back to shore, I’ll vote for them.
Rating: Ask for 7 dollars back. The movie is extremely predictable and you will have no sympathy for any of the characters. Really, why bother?