Politics goes to the movies: ‘Ides of March’

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According to Entertainment Weekly, George Clooney ran into President Obama at a fund-raising event last spring as he was finishing up production on his new political thriller The Ides of March (which, full disclosure, includes a cameo performance by one Rachel Anne Maddow). When he told the President about the film, according to Mr. Clooney, Mr. Obama asked, “Should we screen it?” to which the actor replied, “Absolutely not!”

When you get a look at The Ides of March, you see what he means. Though Mr. Clooney and co-screenwriters Grant Henslov and Beau Willimon based the film on Willimon’s 2005 Howard Dean-inspired play Farragut North, it is loaded up with dialogue, iconography, and even characters (if Paul Giamatti’s Tom Duffy isn’t supposed to be Mark Penn, I’ll eat my hat) clearly reminiscent of the 2008 Obama campaign. Governor Mike Morris’s junior campaign manager Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) owns up to “drinking the Kool-Aid” because he sees his candidate as one who will “make a real difference in people’s lives.” A jaded reporter (Marisa Tomei) is incredulous: “You really buy into this crap. The take-back-the-country nonsense.” She has some advice for the young staffer: “Mike Morris is a politician… he will let you down, sooner or later.”

That’s a line that falls hard on the ears of the many diehard Obama supporters in the audience, who have felt more than a little let down over the last couple of years. But the specific way in which idealistic Mr. Myers is let down by his candidate in The Ides of March is where George Clooney and his co-writers part ways with reality (well, there and in their insistence that Hardball is on in the morning). Because, after all, most of the Obama echoes are window dressing for a fairly standard—though certainly smoothly executed and exquisitely acted — political thriller, wherein suspenseful music and glaring confrontations dramatize a giant, scandalous breach of trust and ethics.

But that’s the stuff of star-studded movies and feverish conspiracy theories. In real life, the hope-inspiring people’s candidate didn’t let you down with scandal; he let you down, slowly but surely, month in and month out, with a score of tiny compromises. Maybe Mr.  Gosling’s character gets off easy. He gets all of his disappointment at once.

Politics goes to the movies: 'Ides of March'

Updated