Hollywood pictures about political campaigns are usually contrivances that portray politicians as corrupt and deceptive. Politicians are cast as liars, cheats, and sexual predators, and their campaign staff as masters of cover-up -- cynical manipulators who would send their mothers to the gas chambers to get a win for their candidate.
The Ides of March, a new movie directed by George Clooney, takes this category to new heights of stupidity. It is the epitome of the genre and makes the democratic process seem like an adventure in hell.
George Clooney plays a good-guy politician running as the Democratic candidate in the Ohio primary on the way to the White House. He is the flavor of the year, save-the-world candidate out to defeat the guys in the black hats (meaning the destroy-the-world Republicans). The script provides snippets of policy talk for party authenticity.
The Clooney character is not running against a Republican, however. He is in a primary battle with a Democrat of a contrary mindset to his opponent, perhaps someone who might advocate things Republican.
Clooney's image-maker PR guy, played by Ryan Gosling, is an idealist, a true believer in Clooney's governor character. Gosling's character is dedicated to the belief that Clooney best represents the good guys who, in Hollywood's terms, care the most about the little guy.
Naturally, Clooney's governor is portrayed with minimum flaws as a great governor, a loving husband, and an exemplary family man. In his affectionate devotion to his wife, who has almost no dialogue, he is portrayed as gentle, loving and downright cuddly. He even rewrites his own speeches.
The behind-the-scenes campaigning sequences are typical of what we have seen before and are moderately accurate. It features starry-eyed, dedicated, ambitious and attractive young people who are up at all hours reveling in their close proximity to power and doing whatever jobs are required to ingratiate themselves and boost their resumes. As expected, and undoubtedly true-to-life, there is a lot of coffee-guzzling, implied general partying, and numerous hook ups, especially with young, nubile interns turned on by the excitement of it all. Think: Monica Lewinsky as the intern role model.
As we have learned from real life, powerful, big shot politicians, especially Presidents, are turn-ons for sexy, young interns and vice versa. One of Bill Clinton's most memorable quotes about his affair with an intern, aside from his definition of sexual intercourse, was, "I did it...because I could." Indeed, you know from the get-go that the young, gorgeous, sexy creature that catches the horny eye of the idealist Gosling character will very soon end up in his sack. By then, we suspect that she has been available to others along the power ladder.
Then comes a plot device that must have been right out of the trash bag of overused embarrassing and often rejected clichés. It turns out that the gorgeous intern has also been in the sack of Mr. Clooney's picture-perfect save-the-world politician. After all, we always knew he had first dibs. Unfortunately, the little lady must have flunked her sex education course. She is, heavens to Betsy, pregnant by the good Governor. Ah, the aphrodisiac of power.
Here, the plot thickens to sticky molasses. To save the Governor the possibility of political suicide, Gosling's idealist sends the little girl to get an abortion and urges her to get lost. Impregnating the intern is bad enough, but aborting the Governor's illicit child is the ultimate no-no. The governor, you see, is Catholic. Still, at all costs, the good guy governor with the zipper problem must be protected.
By now we know that Gosling's image-maker character is something of an idiot. Worse, he takes money from the campaign to pay for the abortion. At this point, it becomes apparent that the good governor is not too smart about his hiring practices.
To nudge this travesty of plot creation further over the cliff, the idealist is fired for other reasons having to do with his opponent's campaign manager trying to hire him away from good guy Clooney, which proves that the other guy was just as dumb in the employment department.
When the little lady discovers that Gosling has been fired, she promptly kills herself by taking an overdose of pills given to her at the abortion clinic. It turns out that the impregnated lady was also Catholic, which may or may not have motivated her suicide.
The bumbling script does not ask why the intern killed herself and apparently the police department has little interest in the lady's demise. The city in Ohio where this takes place must have the laziest and most incompetent police force in the country.
And so the idealist Gosling blackmails the good governor into running his campaign and firing the guy who ran the campaign before and fired Gosling. After all, he has discovered the good governor's Achilles Heel, which surely is a euphemism for another part of his anatomy. The obvious, heavy-handed implication is that Gosling will now become a close advisor to the Clooney character when he wins the Presidency, which the movie assumed from the beginning.
In a line of dialogue that wins hands down the prize for the weirdest line ever performed in a movie, the governor says something like: "Does that mean that I will be stuck with you for eight years?"
You betcha, the close-up of Gosling clearly implies. The poor bastard is about to spend eight years as the future president's pimp.
There is a strange scene near the end of the movie showing another gorgeous, young intern carrying a tray of coffee containers to the governor and his top brass during a rally. The camera follows her as she makes her way through the crowd like a lamb to the slaughter -- clearly, a symbolic insert -- as if the point of the movie is "lock up your daughters before the political predators make them their sex slaves."
This movie travesty ends with Gosling's character running the campaign for the good governor. The ending, meant to be a profound, "loss of innocence" statement, shows a long close-up of Gosling's face which the movie makers must have hoped would convey disillusionment with the whole bloody corrupt system as imagined by Hollywood.
Actually, this last close up of Gosling staring into the camera is the most accurate and honest portrayal in the movie. Thank God it's over, Gosling's character seems to clearly state, let me take the money and run.
Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include The War of the Roses, Random Hearts and the PBS trilogy The Sunset Gang. He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's Website at www.warrenadler.com.