Steve Meyers (Gosling) is working on a primary campaign for presidential candidate Mike Morris (Clooney). With Morris’s clean-cut image and experienced campaign manager Paul Zara (Hoffman) also involved, the crucial state of Ohio seems certain to be his. But with attractive young intern Molly (Wood) and opposing campaigner Tom Duffy (Giamatti) both causing distractions for Meyers, the path to victory is anything but smooth.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen The Ides Of March that it’s based on a play (Farragut North by Beau Willimon who co-wrote the screenplay) because this is a film that does most of its work through dialogue. There’s a little action (as well as a little bit of ‘action’, nudge nudge) but characters are mainly revealed and story propelled by the chat. This is by no means a bad thing – it’s very well written and performed by an excellent cast.
Having said that, I’m not convinced that the casting was quite right. As good as he is, Ryan Gosling seems a bit lightweight in this particular role, while Clooney plays a charming, smooth-talking politician. He’s great at what he does but it’s hardly a departure for the charming, smooth-talking would-be (but actually probably won’t-be) politician. Evan Rachel Wood is good, as is Paul Giamatti, both in supporting if pivotal roles but as ever Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a film better simply by being in it. He dominates every scene he’s in and so it’s a shame there isn’t more of him.
As a director, Clooney is very assured and The Ides of March is stylishly and expertly shot, with some lovely use of light and dark which aptly reflect the shadowy, deceitful world of politics. It’s also well-paced and never dull. However, there’s a crucial scene on which the entire plot turns and for me it didn’t ring true which undermines the rest of the film. Perhaps more importantly though, there’s a distinct lack of tension so while it feels quite realistic it isn’t dramatic enough to be truly gripping.That said, this is a solid, glossy political thriller with a simple if obvious message (politics is a dirty game) plenty of good ingredients that will doubtless pull in the punters. However, I can’t see it either being hailed as a classic or troubling those dishing out the gongs come awards season.
EXTRAS ★★★ There's an audio commentary with star, co-writer and director Clooney and co-writer Heslov; plus four short featurettes – Developing the Campaign: The Origins of Ides of March (7:08); Believe: George Clooney (6:19); On the Campaign: The Cast of Ides of March (5:49); and What Does a Political Consultant Do? (7:29).