10/05/2011 07:29 am ET Updated Dec 05, 2011

Review: The Ides of March

Political campaigns may attract idealists, but they don't keep them for long. They either flee in disillusionment -- or they figure out how the game is played and quickly become realists, and cynical ones, at that. But then, as Aldous Huxley once observed, "Idealism is the noble toga that political gentlemen drape over their will to power."

So it is in The Ides of March, the film that director George Clooney and partner Grant Heslov adapted from Beau Willimon's play, Farragut North. The story of a presidential campaign by a progressive governor, and his staff's struggle to push him through the primaries to the nomination, it's a suspenseful political drama about one man's ideals and the choices he's forced to make between them and the cold realities that go with winning a campaign.

The man is Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), the media supervisor for the presidential campaign of Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney). Working for veteran campaign strategist Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Stephen is in Ohio, a week away from the Democratic primary that could make or break Morris' presidential hopes.

Stephen has a lot of balls in the air. He and Paul are about to meet with a powerful but conservative Democratic senator from the South (Jeffrey Wright), in hopes of convincing him to throw his support to Morris. But they're also waiting for what they assume will be a nasty surprise in the final days before the primary from Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), chief campaign strategist to Morris' opponent.

As a distraction, Stephen allows himself to be flirted with by an intern, Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), whose father happens to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee. One thing leads to another - but beside winding up in bed with her, Stephen discovers a secret that could rock the campaign itself.

Even as he does, he's being wooed by Duffy, who tries to convince him to jump ship, telling him that there are unexploded bombshells on Morris' path that will cut the campaign off at the knees. Ever the optimist, Stephen insists that Morris will win the nomination - only to be blindsided by the kind of dirty dealing he assumed he was too smart to fall prey to.

Which leads to the salient point of the film -- and to the political reality of the world today: If you're too high-minded to get down in the mud with your opponent -- but your opponent can grab victory by playing dirty -- who's the winner?

This review continues on my website.