Here’s some shocking news: Politics can be a dirty business — full of betrayals, double dealing and unholy bargains. If that comes as a surprise to you, you’ve probably never read an American newspaper, but this widely held and fashionably jaundiced view permeates George Clooney’s The Ides of March, a story about a governor who’s trying to win an Ohio presidential primary.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Clooney directed, co-wrote the screenplay and plays Governor Mike Morris, an idealistic liberal who’s not afraid to admit that he’s not a religious man. Clooney donned many hats to make the movie, but he’s not its star. Instead, he cedes the spotlight to Ryan Gosling, who portrays Stephen Myers, an ambitious but idealistic campaign worker and political hotshot who works for Morris’ more-seasoned campaign manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Based on Beau Willmon’s play, Farragut North, The Ides of March resembles Clooney’s previous directorial efforts — particularly Good Night and Good Luck and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind — in its snappy intelligence.
Never boring and full of intriguing moments, Ides of March gets its best work from a terrific supporting cast: - Paul Giamatti (as the campaign manager for the opposition); Hoffman (as Morris’ veteran campaign manager); and Evan Rachel Wood (as a flirtatious young intern working on the Morris campaign). Gosling is at his best before the script turns the tables on his character, forcing him to decide whether he’s going to wallow in the dirt along with the rest of the pols or keep his self-respect.
Clooney’s Mike Morris isn’t much of a character; he’s a kind of walking position paper, and the script —- predictably, I think — contrives to find ways to challenge Morris’ status as a liberal icon. The central plot twist is best discovered in a theater not in a review, but I found Morris’ inevitable act of hypocrisy to be less than shocking, an obvious attempt to evoke an incident with which we’re all depressingly familiar.
And by the end, it seemed to me that Ryan had adopted a kind of single-minded approach to his character that might have benefited from some shading.
But what surprise me most about The Ides of March is its hermetic quality. The movie lacks the infectious bustle and noise of a campaign; it’s fine when the exchanges between characters tend toward intimacy, but it misses the rambunctious excitement of politics. The movie resembles a tune that’s all melody and no harmony.
That’s not to say that Ides of March is a bore; it’s not. The best thing about Ides of March is watching its various characters jockey to prove who’s most in the know. Still, it felt to me as Clooney & company never allowed the story’s cynicism to bubble urgently from its core. I enjoyed Ides of March, but couldn’t entirely shake the feeling that Clooney was playing a game that had been rigged from the start.