One of the first things I thought as the credits were rolling was ‘This must be Clooney’s definitive answer on why he says he will never run for political office’.
Based on Farragut North, a play by co-screenwriter Beau Willimon, the film revolves around the political campaign of a Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) during a well contested Democratic Presidential Primary in Ohio. Though Clooney has less screen time than some theatergoers may like, he purposefully embodies the recent ideals of his Party (with some clever nods to actual policy that should perhaps be in the public dialogue currently). The plot spends most of its focus on up-and-coming political advisor Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) who has to balance his loyalty to the campaign with his loyalty to the cause it/he is fighting for among a variety of players in and around the campaign. To say anymore would be verging into spoiling the particulars. Suffice to say, decisions are made and consequences are had.
However, this film is really about the the dichotomy between personal and public integrity. What makes a candidate worthy of office, or rather, what makes him or her unworthy? I came out of this film thinking about things that anyone with a brain for politics has surely pondered before, but they are ideas no less relevant for the film them bringing up again in our recent political climate (where many are dissatisfied with the choices on either “side” of the spectrum). The film asks you to consider situations where you have to personally judge whether, as they say, the ends justify the means. Leadership is needed, even from fallible people.
Like most films in which Philip Seymour Hoffman is a supporting actor, his character (the senior political advisor) spells out the moral core of the film: Trust and loyalty are paramount in a business where everything is played for political spin. If you can’t trust someone, they have to go. Like Gosling’s character says another in the film: ‘This is the big leagues. If you make a mistake, you’ve lost the right to play the game’. Yet, there are ways to try to play the game against itself.
I’m writing in generalities, again, because I don’t want to spoil the impact of the specific drama of the film (even though it should not seem unique at all). However, like with his previous Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney may be expecting you to go beyond to film and question its place in our current political/social reality. This is where the weight of the picture comes in.
Does a John Edwards or an Anthony Weiner really deserve to “lose the game” for their individual indiscretions (or keep going back in time for countless examples)? Keeping in mind the future that they could have achieved in/for the Party? On one hand they could have had the personal responsibility to simply not do the things they did (or at least have people around them keep them from being exposed), but on the other are these really things that keep these public figures from being trustworthy leaders in executing policy for the national interest?
I do not wish to take a “side” here, I’m simply pointing out that the answer isn’t as easy as you might think it is/was. If you feel like you already have a definitive answer to that question, this movie might not be for you. If you don’t, it isn’t going to answer it for you. I like it that way.
From a comparative standpoint this film really isn’t any better than a more excellently lensed and scored epsiode of The West Wing, but it is better than almost everything else at the cineplex right now. A mental Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, if you will….