There is a long tradition of politically themed movies out of Hollywood, from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to the more cynical, Clinton-flavoured Primary Colors. It was inevitable that George Clooney would enter this cinematic race, and his ominously titled The Ides of March combines Obama “change we can believe in” rhetoric with the rat-like machinations of Machiavelli.
Not content just to direct and co-author the script, Clooney also stars as Mike Morris, a sitting governor who is running in the Democratic presidential primaries. The charismatic Morris, a bold idealist who champions progressive liberal ideas, is in a critical battle to win Iowa. But he is up against a tough opponent in a close fight, and both men are desperate to get the endorsement of Ohio’s Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright).
Morris has a small army of foot soldiers led by two men: campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a whip-smart strategist named Stephen Myers (Canada’s Ryan Gosling). Myers, young and almost painfully idealistic, is a true believer when it comes to Morris. Zara, a campaign veteran, respects their candidate, but is wise enough to know that ultimately he’s just another politician. With that as the setup, it’s no surprise when Myers learns that his hero has feet of clay.
Soon after he finds himself in the middle of underhanded campaign infighting that will challenge everything he believes in – including his own moral code.
Ides is very smart about how political campaigns are run, from the day-to-day strategizing to the courting of the media, from the challenge of getting their candidate’s message out, to deflating or deflecting the posturing of their opponent. Where Ides falls short is with its predictable and unconvincing plot, which ultimately collapses in on itself and offers clichés we can’t believe in.
Although not as compelling as the earlier Clooney-directed dramas Syriana and Good Night And Good Luck, this is a feast of fine acting. Hoffman is always fantastic, and here he’s nicely paired against another great character actor, Paul Giamatti, who plays the campaign manager for Morris’s arch rival. Oscar winner Marisa Tomei is fine as a hard-nosed reporter. Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler, Across the Universe) adds nuance to the role of the vulnerable campaign intern. And Clooney, unsurprisingly, embodies charm and gravitas. But this is ultimately Gosling’s film, and he carries it with a harrowing intensity. M