We’re only minutes into “The Ides of March” when we hear the veteran campaign manager (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) deliver this line: 73 Democrats have run for president in the past 43 years; only 3 have won.
“That’s me,” whispers Joe Trippi. To be precise, that’s his signature speech about presidential campaigns. Which is exactly why we invited the Democratic consultant — best known for jump-starting Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid — to Saturday’s matinee of the political drama, which opened Friday. The film was adapted from “Farragut North,” a play written by former Dean staffer Beau Willimon; Trippi was asked by screenwriter Grant Heslov to look at the script. But he hadn’t seen the movie, so we settled into seats. Popcorn? Check. Sodas? Check. Political realism? Not so fast.
The movie opens with the idealistic press secretary (Ryan Gosling) preparing his candidate (George Clooney) for a crucial primary vote that would all but guarantee the Democratic presidential nomination. It becomes clear pretty fast that drama trumps fact in several scenes.
The cellphone fallacy: A young staffer hands out shiny matching cellphones “from the DNC” to the staff. (Fateful phone mixup alert!) No way the DNC would send phones to an upstart campaign against an establishment rival, which Trippi advised when he first looked at the script. “They left that in?” he says, astonished. “That’s crazy!”
The policy meeting: The candidate and press secretary hash out a draft of his national service speech — not alone in a corner office, but in the middle of a headquarters surrounded by worshipful young staffers. “No way they’d have all those people in that room,” Trippi says under his breath.
Using the wife: During a late-night car ride, the candidate’s wife tries to persuade her husband to compromise his principled position for a key endorsement — then admits that his staffers asked her to lobby him. “That’s real, how you get the wife to do it,” Trippi tells us.
The petty cash scene: The press secretary, who desperately needs $900 in cash (don’t ask!) tersely asks his assistant to get it from the petty cash. “There no way a guy would go to the campaign for the money,” snorts Trippi. “Just go to the ATM!”
The secret meetings: The press secretary meets with a key figure on a park bench. “On a park bench?” Trippi says. Yeah, and in an empty restaurant kitchen. So Hollywood! Real secret meetings take place in third-party hotel rooms but that would take too much screen time to set up.
The End. Sorry kids, no spoilers. Ideals are compromised, friends betrayed, someone dies and someone lands on top.
Instant review? “I thought it was pretty good,” he says. The film’s small inaccuracies don’t bother Trippi much; he gives the movie a thumbs-up for realistically portraying the road from idealism to jaded pragmatism. “I thought the movie did an incredible job of showing how you start out as one person and, by the end, you can’t believe you had anything to do with some of the decisions that got made.”
His favorite part of the movie? When a rival campaign manager warns the press secretary to “get out while you’re still young.” Trippi, 54, says he’s probably finished with presidential races. Probably.
“At the end of every presidential campaign I’ve ever been involved in, everyone says to themselves, ‘That was the greatest experience I’ve ever had — but please God, don’t let me do that again.’ ”
Read also: Ann Hornaday reviews “The Ides of March,”10/7/11