BIG-TIME politics is a ruthless blood sport, and where it is played the field is littered with the bleached bones of naive idealists.
So says George Clooney's "The Ides of March."
To which anyone over 30 says, "Duh."
"Ides," though, seems calculated to deliver its message of disillusionment to a fresh set of eyes - the Ryan Gosling generation (is that X or Y?).
And, as messages of disillusionment go, "Ides" comes in a very slick package. Snappy writing, great cast. It's much more fun to sit through than a contemporary candidates' debate, which takes you to the same ultimate place of abject despair.
And there is some good news here, especially for Pennsylvanians: Ladies, George Clooney is our governor!
Who cares what his politics are, right?
For the record, they're pretty liberal. Clooney's Governor Mike Morris is an atheist who says that his only sacred belief is the U.S. Constitution. He's for gay rights, path-to-citizenship, stuff like that.
In the "Ides" scenario, this has made him the Democratic Party front-runner on the eve of decisive spring primary elections, and he looks like a sure winner, thanks to veteran handler Duffy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and rising star advance man Stephen (Ryan Gosling).
Stephen is feeling so sure of things, he actually starts to relax - in a hotel, with an attractive intern (Evan Rachel Wood). He violates the age-old political rule: no sex before a primary fight. In his weakened state, Stephen agrees to meet with the sneaky manager of the opposing team (Paul Giamatti), setting off an internal firestorm of shifting loyalties and desperate career damage control.
To top it off, Stephen gets hold of some startling information about his boss, Gov. Morris, prompting a re-evaulation of, gosh, just about everything he thought he knew about integrity and principles.
"Ides" would be a pretty tiresome movie, actually, if it weren't so awesomely greased with good actors, so well stocked with good lines. (Jeffrey Wright turns up as a North Carolina senator whose pile of delegates make him a kingmaker in this election. Marisa Tomei is a nosy Times reporter)
Director Clooney is very good at scene staging, and the movie is tightly edited so that one scene folds neatly into the next. And he's become a terrific actor, especially in "Michael Clayton" mode, when he adds corruption and failure to his good looks.
Everything went by so smoothly, I didn't mind the movie's dogged, don't-even-bother cynicism, and I almost didn't notice that the story is completely preposterous, when you think about who does what to whom, considering who whom turns out to be. Hey, I'm trying to avoid a spoiler here.
"Ides" is based on the play "Farragut North," by Beau Willimon, who worked on the presidential run of Gov. Howard Dean, and captures the frenzy that attends flavor-of-the-month candidates. It's by no means a Dean-campaign rehash, however, and references to other candidacies are everywhere - I particularly liked the faux Shepard Fairey campaign poster of Morris.