The Ides Of March Review

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Idealistic Stephen Myers (Gosling) is a true believer working for Governor Mike Morris’ (Clooney) Presidential bid. But his relationship with campaign volunteer Molly (Wood) and machinations between rival campaign managers (Hoffman, Giamatti) show him the


Well, you might think, who better (or more likely) than George Clooney to produce, co-write and direct a cool, sophisticated drama set against the backdrop of an American Presidential primary season, and to play a smart, articulate, polished and electable candidate for the White House occupancy to boot? To an attractive, beguiling extent, The Ides Of March — adapted from a play, Farragut North, by Beau Willimon, himself a former staffer to a Presidential hopeful — lives up to the considerable Clooney rep. It is at face-value a mature, thoughtful, intelligent thriller with some meat on its bones, handsomely crafted, with a big-ticket ensemble cast. And a little sex. It’s smart and ambitious, but burdened by the weight of its own worthiness.

And then, at the same time, on closer inspection and despite its Shakespearean allusions in the big themes (the Ides Of March, of course, being the date Roman conspirators ended Julius Caesar’s imperial ambitions), some of its plot points are either as implausible or as predictable as those you could expect in any shiny Hollywood drama of ambition, backstabbing and party-politicking. Ryan Gosling’s Myers is acknowledged to be young for his key position in a serious but telegenic state governor’s campaign to become the Democratic party’s nominee in the next Presidential election. As Morris’ press secretary he’s spokesman, speech writer and advisor — kind of Josh, Sam and C. J. from The West Wing rolled into one well-tailored charmer. Despite his youth, he’s supposed to be practically a genius at working the media, whether schmoozing a seasoned political reporter (Marisa Tomei) or conceiving soundbites to hook Joe Six-Pack. Yet this ultra-savvy political animal is as naive as a starry-eyed schoolboy.

An incident in which Myers shows poor judgment and succumbs briefly to a temptation that appeals to his pride backfires on him, setting off a chain of back-room betrayals. Discovering a flaw in his candidate’s character the idealist overreacts like a mentally unstable fanboy who has been shunned by the object of his obsession. It’s taken him until now to become disillusioned and also to discover politics is dirty? Huh? The depth of his sudden betrayal marks a turnaround of almost unfathomable dimension, excused away with the line, “Revenge makes people unpredictable.” Ruthlessly crazed, too, apparently. And then on top of these bothers, not to give anything away, the story involving Evan Rachel Wood’s delicious, precociously smart-alec intern (who also undergoes a personality reversal to rival Dr. Jekyll’s), given that she is the daughter of a very powerful man, seems tied off too neatly and quickly in this paranoid, investigative age in which nothing even a teeny bit potentially scandalous is let go.

Most political dramas tell us that, gee, a candidate of any stripe and his entourage make compromises to get elected, so there are no great shocks in that line. But then, this is not intended to be so much a political tale as a Faustian one, in which the young protagonist is actually dangerously good at what he does best and sells his soul to keep doing it, ideology and integrity be damned. Aaah, he’s all grown up and cynical! The quality of the cast and the direction are superior. The content, more average.

Entertaining while you’re watching it but, as deceptive as a party’s election promises, there’s less to it than meets the eye.