Stephen Meyers is the junior campaign manager for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris, a Democratic presidential candidate, competing against Arkansas Senator Ted Pullman in the Democratic primary election. Both campaigns are attempting to secure the endorsement of North Carolina Democratic Senator Franklin Thompson, who controls 356 convention delegates, enough to clinch the nomination for either candidate. After a debate at Miami University, Meyers is asked by Pullman's campaign manager, Tom Duffy, to meet in secret. Meyers calls his boss, senior campaign manager Paul Zara, who doesn't answer. Meyers decides to meet with Duffy, who offers Meyers a position in Pullman's campaign, an offer Meyers refuses. Zara calls Meyers back and asks what was important, but Meyers says it was nothing to worry about. Meanwhile, Meyers starts a sexual relationship with Molly Stearns, an attractive intern for Morris' campaign, and daughter of Jack Stearns, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Meyers admits to an angry Zara that he met with Duffy, and that Duffy said his candidate will offer Thompson the position of Secretary of State, guaranteeing Pullman's victory. Zara and Meyers discuss the matter with Morris, saying they must make the same offer to Thompson to secure his endorsement and his delegates' votes. Morris refuses on principle, as he thoroughly disagrees with Thompson and his policies, and wants a "clean" campaign without such deals.
Late one night when Molly is sleeping, Meyers discovers that Morris is trying to call her after he picks up her phone by mistake. Meyers finds out that Molly and Morris had a brief sexual liaison at a campaign stop in Iowa several weeks previously, and Molly is now pregnant by the Governor, which will cause a scandal. Molly needs $900 for an abortion, but cannot tell her father because her family is Catholic. Meyers helps her with the money but warns her not to tell anybody, and fires her from the campaign to make the problem go away. Ida Horowicz, a reporter for the New York Times, reveals to Meyers that an anonymous source leaked his encounter with Duffy to her. She also knows the Morris campaign has talked to Thompson. She says she will publish an article on the Duffy meet unless Meyers gives her all of the details about the Thompson meeting.
After dropping Molly off at the abortion clinic, Meyers goes to Zara for help, believing the story would damage him, Zara, and the campaign. Zara reveals that he leaked the meeting to Ida with Morris' approval in order to justify firing Meyers. He states that he did this because Meyers was disloyal and traitorous for meeting with Duffy. Zara makes it clear that he holds no personal animosity against Meyers and values him, but cannot trust him any more. An angry and desperate Meyers then offers his services to Duffy, who admits he only met with Meyers to influence his opponent's operation under the likelihood that either Meyers would leave Morris and come to work for him or Meyers would tell Zara, and Zara would fire him. Either way, Duffy would win.
Duffy apologizes for using him, saying that he also wanted to help Meyers, and advises him to quit politics and the campaign before he becomes a cynic like him. Meyers offers to sell out Morris completely but Duffy declines, thinking that Meyers cannot hurt him and he has Thompson wrapped up. In his anger and frustration, Meyers abandons Molly at the clinic with an unfulfilled promise to come back when it's over. Alone in a hotel room, and having been equipped with pills from the clinic, she dies from overdose, having been told by Zara's new junior that Meyers had threatened to take everyone down with him when he was fired. Meyers comes on the death scene and sneaks Molly's phone from the bed into his pocket.
Unbeknownst to the Morris campaign, Meyers meets with Thompson to arrange for Thompson's delegates in exchange for a spot on the Morris ticket. It is clear that Thompson prefers Morris over Pullman so all Meyers has done is get Thompson to commit if he is offered the post with Morris. Meyers meets Morris in a dark bar, telling him he will expose the affair with Molly if Morris does not accept his demands: fire Zara, place Meyers in charge of the campaign, and offer Thompson the role of Secretary of State. Morris coldly says that there is no proof of the affair, but Meyers claims to have a suicide note found in Molly's room. Morris relents, clearly giving up what is left of his personal integrity, and meets Meyers' demands. Zara takes his firing philosophically and is still positive with the press about Morris.
Zara chats with Meyers at Molly's funeral and is amicable, letting Meyers know that he is certain Meyers must have had something big on Morris to get him to fire Zara and promote him. Zara has options and states that he is taking a million dollar a year job at a consulting firm, for him basically a retirement from politics. Later, Thompson's endorsement makes Morris the de facto nominee despite losing the Democratic Party's Ohio primary. Duffy, who put Meyers' back against the wall and who rejected Meyers' offer of dirt against Morris, is seen trying to put up a good face in what is now obviously going to be a defeat for his candidate.
Now senior campaign manager, Meyers is on the way to a remote TV interview with John King, when Ida ambushes him and says her next story will be about how Meyers delivered Thompson and his delegates and got his promotion. Meyers reacts by having security bar her from coming any further. Meyers takes his seat for the interview, just as Morris finishes a speech about how 'integrity and dignity' matter, and is asked for insight as to how the events surrounding the primary unfolded.Ryan Gosling as Stephen Meyers, Morris's junior campaign manager.
George Clooney as Mike Morris, Governor of Pennsylvania and a Democratic presidential candidate.
Evan Rachel Wood as Molly Stearns, an intern for Morris's campaign and Meyers's love interest.
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Paul Zara, Morris's campaign manager and Meyers's superior and mentor.
Paul Giamatti as Tom Duffy, Ted Pullman's campaign manager.
Marisa Tomei as Ida Horowicz, a reporter for the New York Times.
Jeffrey Wright as Franklin Thompson, Democratic Senator from North Carolina.
Jennifer Ehle as Cindy Morris, wife to Governor Mike Morris and the First Lady of Pennsylvania.
Gregory Itzin as former Senator Jack Stearns, father of Molly Stearns and the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Michael Mantell as Ted Pullman, Senator from Arkansas and Morris's opponent in the Democratic primaries.
Max Minghella as Ben Harpen, a member of Morris's campaign staff.
In October 2010, Variety reported that Clooney signed on to produce, direct, and star in the film adaptation of Beau Willimon's Broadway play Farragut North. Exclusive Media Group, Cross Creek Pictures, Smoke House Pictures, and Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way Productions financed the film. Filming in Cincinnati, Ohio began in February 2011 in Downtown Cincinnati at Fountain Square, Over-the-Rhine historic district, Northside, Mount Lookout, Xavier University, other neighborhoods and at Miami University's Farmer School of Business and Hall Auditorium (Miami University and Hall Auditorium are located in Oxford, Ohio). Principal photography also took place in Downtown Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan. On March 14, filming began at the University of Michigan and included 1,000 extras.
The theatrical release failed to recognize Cincinnati in the credits as a filming location. Producer and screenplay co-writer Grant Heslov said that "the omission of Cincinnati in the credits was an inadvertent mistake, something that slipped through the cracks." He also stated that the credits would be corrected for the home release of the film.
The Ides of March premiered on August 31, 2011 as the opening film of the 68th Venice International Film Festival. Sony Pictures Entertainment bought the distribution rights for the United States only, while Alliance Films bought Canadian distribution. Sony wanted Clooney to keep the play's title, but The Ides of March was finalized. The Ides of March was originally planned to have a limited release in December 2011 and a wide release in January 2012. However, Sony eventually moved the film's opening date to October 14, 2011. This was later moved again, to October 7, 2011.
The film received positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 85%, based on 218 reviews, with a rating average of 7.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "While not exactly exposing revelatory truths, The Ides of March is supremely well-acted drama that moves at a measured, confident clip." On Metacritic the film has a score of 67 out of 100, based on 43 critics, indicating "generally positive reviews". CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade moviegoers gave the film was a "B" on an A+ to F scale.
Nevertheless, some critics gave the film mixed or even negative reviews. One such mixed review came from A. O. Scott, who wrote that "it is difficult, really, to connect this fable to the world it pretends to represent. Whatever happens in 2012, within either party or in the contest between them, it seems fair to say that quite a lot will be at stake. That is not the case in The Ides of March, which is less an allegory of the American political process than a busy, foggy, mildly entertaining antidote to it."