Ryan Gosling has always played the young swaggering upstart with a tangible believability, and this movie is no different. As a young but unflappable campaign manager (Stephen Meyers), he nonetheless flirts with at a deal with the devil, meeting with a rival campaign manager to discuss his honor. Though he seemingly does the right thing (reveals the breach of trust to his own director), it nonetheless plays him in a tailspin of events that has all the literary of substance of a good tragedy. Caught in the middle is the young, beautiful intern (I know, it sounds cliché) who is the truest victim in this story. Played by Evan Rachel Wood, Molly Stearns gets caught up in the moral failings of both the governor and Meyers, becoming an unwitting pawn in both men’s ambitions.
Clooney is fantastic director of character study, and his direction brings us close enough to these characters to understand them, even if we don’t like them. Every great tragedy portends some major fall, but in The Ides of March it is not a fall from power, so much as a fall from grace. Themes of honor, ambition, and loyalty permeate the tightly crafted plot of the film, with one element very purposefully missing: redemption. The film takes us from the high of a momentous campaign by the kind of idealistic and transformative candidate that so many in the real world are hoping for in the upcoming elections, and shows the inner soul of the campaign become hopelessly twisted, even though the shiny exterior remains untarnished.
Furthermore, in a climate of low public approval for our own politicians, the film seems to reaffirm a kind of national disgust with the entire establishment. It’s a potent reinforcement of the idea that power corrupts, and even the most stalwart may fail under the pressure to achieve.