It’s difficult to actually fault George Clooney’s The Ides of March—certainly both its acting and its solid directorial style are beyond reproach. Indeed, there’s nothing that I can say is wrong with it, but I was left strangely indifferent to its story and its theme. And don’t confuse that indifference to being out of sympathy with the film’s aims—I’m not. The problem, for me, is that it told me nothing I didn’t know about politics, political campaigns or candidates. I suspect it was supposed to infuriate me, but it didn’t. The best—or worst—it could do was leave me vaguely depressed. I think I have simply become too disillusioned and cynical for the film to work on me as intended.
Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is a true believer when it comes to Democratic presidential hopeful Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). He also happens to be second-in-command on Morris’ team. But what truly sets him apart from most of the higher-ups in Morris’ bid for the nomination is that Stephen actually believes in his candidate. He views Morris as the only candidate who can make the kind of difference he sees as necessary to save the country. Naturally—given the kind of film this is and the promotions for it—Stephen is going to learn things about Morris and politics that he doesn’t really want to know. The film is certainly efficient at presenting this, but it may actually be better in depicting what Stephen learns about himself in the course of it all—and his unsettling response to it. That, in fact, is what keeps The Ides of March more interesting than it is from its central disillusionment theme alone.
Most of the film moves like clockwork—very precision clockwork, but a little wanting in terms of surprise. The actors are exemplary. Philip Seymour Hoffman gets all the good he can out of campaign manager Paul Zara—a man who never tires of talking about how much he values loyalty, but who is visibly uneasy about the presence of this younger, smarter, more handsome campaigner. Paul Giamatti has less to work with as Tom Duffy—manager of Morris’ opponent—but he nails the cynical, manipulative, backroom politico he’s given. As the young intern with whom Stephen becomes involved, Evan Rachel Wood continues her record of completely disappearing into the character she plays.
That leaves Clooney and Gosling—each of whom are fine at what they do. Morris is a character that’s second nature to Clooney—smooth, charming and both less and more than he seems. You can’t fault him here, but he hardly stretches himself in the role. Gosling may not stretch himself, but the film makes good use of his ability to passively let the audience project their own readings of what he’s thinking and feeling. On a couple of occasions—at points of self-realization—he goes somewhat beyond this, but he remains a very internalized performer.
The film’s problem is that it’s simply neither the political thriller it’s been promoted as (who decided on that approach anyway?), nor is it the blistering expose it’s actually supposed to be. Instead, it’s simply a solidly made, beautifully acted drama that never seems quite the film this aggregation of talent suggests it should have been. Rated R for pervasive language