Review: The Ides Of March (2011)

Director: George Clooney

***

The Ides Of March would like to believe it’s a great political movie, with profound truths to impart and real relevance in our increasingly cynical world. It has this potential, but then we meet our protagonist and these possibilities go right out the window. Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is the deputy campaign manager for Mike Morris (George Clooney), a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination. It’s a wonder Meyers has this job at all because he’s a complete boy scout; he believes passionately in Morris and his policies, and is determined to get him to the White House. Has no-one ever told this guy that nice guys finish last, especially in politics?

Compared to the rallying cry against paranoia that was the excellent Good Night, And Good Luck, Clooney’s latest outing as director is not so black and white in its characterizations. Meyers is a saint, but he’s about to be sorely tested. He’s tempted by an offer to work for opposing campaign manager Duffy (Paul Giamatti), which can only test the patience of Meyers’ senior Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman). A power struggle might be enough for a guy to contend with, but then there’s the senator (Jeffrey Wright) who’s reluctant to back Morris, the flirty intern (Evan Rachel Wood), the snooping reporter (Marisa Tomei) and the newly-unearthed skeletons from Morris’ closet. There’s a lot going on in the script (co-written by Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon), and Clooney gets through it all efficiently. The Ides Of March goes at a neat little pace; in fact, it’s too neat. The 100-odd minutes rush by, and though some of the material should test the conscience, don’t expect to march out from the cinema geared for protest. The Ides Of March is a well-intended but too clean-cut piece of agitprop. It wants to be regarded in the same company as All The President’s Men, but the fact that politics is full of backstabbing and shady people will not be a revelation to many.

Even if its lessons are outdated, TIOM still has a certain craft to it. It’s an engaging enough piece, with enough twisting plot strands to keep you involved to the end. Gosling provides the charm, which contrasts nicely with Clooney who gives a more sinister performance than we’re used to from him. The supports adds plenty of colour (Hoffman and Wood especially), and it does tickle enough grey matter to give pause. It just won’t be a very long pause. The Ides Of March is another likeable entry on Clooney’s directorial CV but, as good as it is, it’s simply not cynical enough to be the paranoid classic it yearns to be.

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