After the Democratic primary transitioned to Ohio, it appeared that Governor Mike Morris was on the fast track to the presidential race. With Paul Zara as his campaign manager and Stephen Meyers as his young, idealistic media guru, there does not seem to be a single obstacle in their way. Stephen gets an odd call requesting a meeting with opposing manager Tom Duffy and chooses to meet him at the bar. Though Tom offers Stephen a chance to switch campaigns and claims that Senator Thompson is going to support his candidate Senator Pullman, Steven refuses and stays with Morris.Though he feels it was a potentially a harmless mistake, he initially chooses not to go to Paul or Morris and report the meeting’s events. Meanwhile, Stephen starts up a relationship with intern Molly Stearns, which is more significant than he recognizes.
Starring: Ryan Gosling (Stephen Meyers), George Clooney (Governor Mike Morris), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Paul Zara), Paul Giamatti (Tom Duffy), Evan Rachel Wood (Molly Stearns), Marisa Tomei (Ida Horowicz), Jeffrey Wright (Senator Thompson), Max Minghella (Ben Harpen), Gregory Itzin (Jack Stearns), Michael Mantell (Senator Pullman), Jennifer Ehle (Cindy Morris)
Though George Clooney may be the jack of all trades in this film, Ryan Gosling is the focal point. As the media mind of the campaign, he starts the film with more of an innocence and natural appreciation for the political process. He does well to limit the amount of corruption he is willing to accept, as he believes in his candidate. The film’s story transforms Gosling’s character, which he portrays through higher tension and questionable decisions. Clooney, on the other hand, is much more level throughout the film. Only toward the end when the mess behind his campaign has grown too large does he break his standard and begin to appear more like what most imagine of political figures behind the scenes. Philip Seymour Hoffman serves as the campaign manager. While there appears to be an edge of manipulation to his character, he does well to hide his true values in order to manage the political process. Paul Giamatti, though projected somewhat villainous as the opposing manager, is also a bit misunderstood as a character with the way that he hides the effects of a long career in politics. Evan Rachel Wood may come off as sweet and innocent, but she also hides the truth behind her experiences. The only character never to change her character is Marisa Tomei as reporter Ida Horowicz.
George Clooney jumped into this story as the writer, supporting actor and director. While the theme of the movie is a political drama, it is actually more about the tagline on the posters. When Stephen Meyers signed on to the Morris campaign, he truly believed in the message and the man. There was a sense that Morris would be the answer for the Democratic party and was one of very few people who could actually make a positive position if elected to power. When the campaign reached Ohio, Morris had built a sizable lead, and without resorting to any dirty tactics. Tom Duffy’s call was a more significant moment than he realized, even though his first reaction was to call Paul to talk about it. When he failed to get Paul on the line and made the decision to meet with Tom, his fate was not fully sealed but he had started down a new pathway. Regardless of the words he chose during the conversation, it was simply more important that he was even present in the bar and let his curiosity get the best of him.
This film’s focus is on the concept of corruption, and Stephen’s choice serves as a strong example of where curiosity and ambition can lead. Besides Stephen, several of the other characters show similar flaws that mimic real life politics. Mike Morris is a candidate like so many before, and even he cannot have a completely clean slate. His political record and values are certainly based in a universal belief structure but even he cannot hold to them 100% of the time. Paul and Tom have the same fatal flaw: they have been in politics too long. Both men seem jaded by the process of running a campaign and see Stephen as a more talented competitor but also one who lacks understanding of his inexperience’s effect on his beliefs and actions. This turns into the argument of which characteristic is more valuable: ambition (which would appear to be exerted through optimism and energy) or cynicism (which comes from a place of being jaded but also realistic). As a young intern, Molly is caught up in the glitz and glamour of working on one of the more successful campaigns and is certainly enamored by the many political figures who could be making history right around her.
This film is one that causes the viewer to think about the current political system and electoral process. Corruption is abundant in this film and backstabbing can be an entertaining behavior to watch. While some elements of the story lack a bit of detail or explanation, the overall film is enjoyable with some rather talented performances by Gosling, Clooney and Giamatti.
Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5