Home > Media, Politics > Beware the Interns: A Review of “The Ides of March”

Beware the Interns: A Review of “The Ides of March”

“Ambition Seduces. Power Corrupts.” – Tagline for The Ides of March

Although a movie, The Ides of March is not about heroes and villains. Although a movie about politics, it doesn’t push a political agenda, although some may argue that it’s implied. Although it concerns itself with scandal, it’s as much about ideals, and values, like loyalty. It’s about naive natures, playing dirty in politics, and asking just how far we are willing to go to win. But like the original Ides of March, where Ceaser met his end by friends seeking political gain, it’s a tale of betrayal and tragedy.  In Star Wars terms, The Ides of March is like watching Anakin Skywalker become a somehow more horrible version of Darth Vader.

I think the film ultimately makes three points:

  1. People are imperfect and makes mistakes.
  2. We play dirty politics because it works, it’s easy, and everybody does it, so you are forced to do it also.
  3. To win in politics, you have to compromise your values and you must sacrifice your beliefs.

Sure, none of these are revolutionary thoughts, a fact that several critics are hung up on, the movie presents its story in a credible, well-done, thrilling and shocking way.

Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, a Junior Campaign Manager for Mike Morris, played by George Clooney, a Pennsylvania Governor running for the Presidential Nomination in the Democratic Primaries in a race that is so close in the context of the film, that North Carolina is somewhat relevant, even though the winner is usually decided far in advance of the state, so it seems, in real life. But not this race, as Morris’ campaign team knows that they’ll have to lock up a popular Senator’s support in order to win Ohio. If they win the state of Ohio, that it’ll be a big enough victory to propel them to the Democratic candidate for President, if not the White House itself. That’s the setup, to which the movie moves into it’s 3-act tragedy.

“We’re gonna be fine. We have to do it, it’s the right thing to do and nothing bad happens when you’re doing the right thing.” – Stephen Meyers

Stephen Meyers

Stephen is different from most political consultants because he actually believes in the cause and ability of Morris. In his mind, he can do no wrong and is the best person to help the most amount of people in the country. But since Stephen is so good, he’s also incredibly confident and prideful about his work. He also has a problem in that he’s only 30, facing a possibility of working in the White House if Morris wins. If Morris wins however, then Stephen gets a nice job for 4-8 years, then either an early retirement, or starting his own lobbyist firm, which would be menial in its own way. If Morris loses however, then Stephen goes back to a menial job at a consulting firm, waiting once more to rise up the ranks.

But Morris is also naive in his own way. To win Ohio, and therefore the Democratic nomination, all Morris has to do is promise to give the Secretary of State position to the aforementioned Senator. That’s all he has to do, but he refuses because not only would it compromise his values, but the Senator is known for being staunchly against the U.N. Does that sound like a good candidate for Secretary of State, a person that has to deal with World leaders on a regular basis? No, but if Morris doesn’t give him the position, he won’t have a chance to bring his values to the White House. He’s naive, but in a different way than Stephen, since one’s intentions are obviously more honorable than the other. Still, pride will ultimately befall both men.

It’s at this point where I can go no further without giving away explicit spoilers for the film. If you plan on seeing this film in the near future, I recommend you do not any farther, since maximum enjoyment of the film requires surprise when bombshells are dropped, and characters go as far as they do. If the film has appealed to you thus far, or the subject matter or what I’ve written appeals to you, then go see it.

“There’s only one rule in politics: you don’t f**k the intern!” – Stephen Meyers

Meyers and Molly the Intern

That’s right, as a President, you can wreak an economy, a country, or even the world, but consider yourself in royal trouble if you ever have sex with an intern. No good can ever come of it. Since Morris is prideful as a politician, he thinks he can get away with having an affair with the intern, and as long as nobody speaks of it, he’ll be fine. But then she gets pregnant.

Personally, I have a primal facination for movies that feature an inevitable horrible cascadal decline for our characters where they’re put in a situation where no good can ever come from their current situation. I’m not talking about stupid Teens in a horror film, no, I’m talking about the horror film of life. Stephen Meyers is of course sleeping with the intern himself, due to his pride, but when she receives a call at 2:30 in the morning from Morris himself, it’s an “Oh, crap…” moment that sends the mind racing towards all the possibilities the film could go down. It’s inherently funny and stereotypical that a politician would end up in this position, but then the film ratchets up the moment more by revealing that the intern is pregnant. It’s a classic catalyst to move characters into making decisions that will ultimately decide their fate.

“I’ll do or say anything if I believe in it, but I have to believe in the cause.” – Stephen Meyers

The Ohio Campaign Headquarters

Since Stephen has declared himself married to the campaign, he must set aside personal feelings for this intern that he’s partly fallen in love with during the course of their affair, and mark her as collateral damage. Stephen rationalizes that it’s best to leave her out to dry, firing her off her internship and driving her to a clinic to have an abortion rather than let Morris catch the fallout. Sure, his once perfect candidate is now tainted beyond measure, but Stephen still has a job, and in his mind at least, this is the best way to “fix things.”

But then he’s put against the wall due being fired due to a series of manipulations and scheming due to Stephen’s lack of loyalty stemming from his pride. It doesn’t feel good being part of the fallout from your own mistakes, so Stephen, again out of pride, threatens to take Morris down on his way out. Hearing this brings up another “Oh crap…” moment, because what’s the best way to take down the Morris campaign? The intern… knowing this, she kills herself rather than being dragged through the mud in order to destroy one man, ultimately helping another.

“Revenge makes people unpredictable.” – Tom Duffy

Meyers Looks On With New Eyes

At this point, I thought Meyers himself might take his own life out of the sheer guilt of being indirectly responsible for her death. But no, after having his mistakes used against himself in getting fired, Meyers now knows all to well the power of dirty politics. Secrets are weapons, and effective ones at that. So what’s Stephen to do? Do the same to Morris. Left with the choice of direct connections to both an affair, an abortion and a suicide, Morris is forced to not only give up the Secretary of State position in order to secure a win, but let Stephen have his boss’ old job, essentially moving up from an aide to a full-blown campaign manager to a candidate that’s now a shoe-in not only for the nomination, but presumably for the White House. But at what price does it come at?

For Morris, in order to get his supposedly great ideas to the White House, he had to make some serious moral compromises and let people into his circle that have no right being there. All of this was due to his pride of sleeping with the intern, which of course you never, ever do. The affair and ultimatum forces Morris into a position to win, but at a great cost.

For Meyers, he lost his naive nature, his hands are covered in blood, he’s responsible for having his boss fired, oh, and he’s responsible for ensuring Morris gets into the White House. He’s betrayed all of his ideals for success and revenge. All of this due to his naive nature, which led to pride, which of course led to his downfall. But where in other fields he would stay down, justifiably ruined, in politics you can come back better than ever if you just have a little dirt.

Morris Gains The Support of Senator Thompson

The final scene, which is of Meyers being prepped for an interview, is like watching minions put on Darth Vader’s suit. Make-up is applied, his ear piece is put in, the hair is made just right, and then the camera pans towards Stephen’s face. At this point, it’s the face of pure evil. It’s haunting to stare at that trademark Ryan Gosling expression, showing nothing while revealing everything. He’s morally dead inside. He used a girl’s suicide to get himself a better job. The question the movies asks in the final scene is, does he reveal the truth to the media?

I think not, since the transformation is complete. Darth Vader also regretted a little of what happened, but what’s he going to do ? He has a choice: peak in his career by the time he’s 40 by working in the White House, or shred every little bit of it, feeling guilty with nothing to distract from it. Yeah, Darth Vader is going to choose ruling the Empire.

On a movie level, it’s all well-acted, with Gosling being a compelling presence as always, and Hoffman playing the Obi-Wan Kenobi to the Vader, as Stephen’s boss and Morris’ campaign manager. Clooney is a credible politician, comfortable on expressing views he probably already believes in. It’s silly in a way, but he’s George Clooney, so you’re fine with him and his dreaminess. His directing on the other hand doesn’t live up to the potential that I once had for him some 5 or 8 years ago. There’s great moments, such as the final scene, but you can’t really feel his hand as much as I’d like to. And again, if you go into the film not knowing the plot particulars, you’ll be an equal mix of shocked and riveted throughout much of the film as the events unfold. Especially the last 30 minutes or so, which I’m surprised more critics haven’t hailed as a stunning piece of work that it is, for simply going as far as it does.

Governor Mike Morris

To put it simply, the movie puts forth that being naive has no place in current politics. Not only does it cloud your judgement, give you a false sense of pride or security, but it also keeps you from winning. Out of 73 Democrats that have ran for President, the movie states at one point, only 3 have won. That means, the movie says, that Republicans know how to run a political campaign, where even though their candidate may not be that great, they know how to approach the race realistically, how to energize their base, and how to discredit a candidate when they need to. So to compete with the Republicans, the Democrats need to move into real world, as it were. But to do that, you have to sell your soul to the devil. And of course, nothing good ever comes out of that.

4 out of 5 Stars

  1. October 12, 2011 at 11:24 am

    This is entertaining even if suspense barely builds and pay-off revelations come with little surprise. Clooney, as a director, is also able to draw-out amazing performances from this whole ensemble cast. Great review.

  2. October 30, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Thank you for this good and comprehensive review! I have seen this movie yesterday and I really liked it.

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