I know what most people are thinking when they learn of a movie that is adapted by, directed by and starring the notoriously liberal George Clooney: agenda film. And while yes, the character Clooney portrays is the perfect amalgam of Bill Clinton and President Obama—down to the campaign posters—the film is something else entirely. It is a tightly wound political thriller that unfolds in front of a naïve campaign wunderkind who must quickly figure out that in high stakes politics it’s eat or be eaten.
Mike Morris (Clooney) is the governor of Arkansas who is currently trying to win the democratic primary against a less-than-charismatic U.S. Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell). Paul Zara (Philip Seymour- Hoffman) is running the governor’s campaign and close by his side is a charming upand- comer destined to be a political player, Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling). Stephen is a true believer in politics, and for all the right reasons. He tells New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) at the beginning of the film that he is drinking the Kool-Aid and it’s delicious.
Everything changes when Stephen regretably takes a secret meeting with Pullman’s campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). Duffy calls the meeting under the pretext of offering Stephen a job, but soon after, the dominoes begin to fall. Stephen’s loyalty is questioned and it would seem everyone involved has a hidden agenda. In the end, only the man with the ace up his sleeve—in the form of information that could alter the course of the campaign—will be left standing.
In the last three months, Ryan Gosling has given us Crazy, Stupid Love; Drive; and The Ides of March. You’d think I’d be sick of him by now, but he just leaves me wanting more. He has that rare combination of movie star magic and actual talent. He absolutely deserves an Oscar nomination for this performance. The other pleasant surprise is Marisa Tomei, who, in her 40s, seems to be working more and defying the ‘no roles for women’ demographic in Hollywood than in her My Cousin Vinny ingénue days.
I also have to applaud George Clooney for his restraint. Yes, his candidate espouses alternative energy, public service and other sexy liberal agenda items, but he keeps the film focused on the thriller and the amazing journey of Stephen as he slowly comes to realize what it really means to work in politics.