Movie Review: “The Ides of March”

Stephen Myers knows his boss’s talking points so well he can stand in for him, reciting them as technicians adjust the lights for the next presidential debate.

“My religion, what I believe in, is called the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Myers (Ryan Gosling) knows the line because he’s heard it a hundred times before, because he believes it and believes in the man who says it, his presidential candidate-boss, Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney).

“The Ides of March,” George Clooney’s latest civics lesson as actor and director, is a down and dirty politics-behind-closed-doors tale. It’s about a campaign professional (Gosling) letting his idealism get in the way of his professionalism. And it’s about disillusionment, ugly pragmatism, back-room deals and maneuvering in this mass media/social media/no secrets age.

Clooney plays a candidate about to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination. He needs the support of a key senator (Jeffrey Wright) who is angling for a political payoff. He needs all the cunning that his campaign manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) can manage, because Governor Morris makes a big deal out of not making “those sorts of deals.” And he needs the loyalty and idealism of Myers, a media mastermind who has brought him so close to his goal.

But Myers is distracted. First, there’s the nagging New York Times reporter (Marisa Tomei)

Her: “You’ve really drunk the Kool-Aid.”

Him: “It tastes delicious.”

Her: “He will let you down. He’s a politician. You used to know that before you got all goose-bumpy.”

Myers is distracted by the to0-cute/way-too-forward intern (Evan Rachel Wood).

And he’s letting the other guy’s campaign manager get into his head. That manager is played by Paul Giamatti with a sinister, knowing sneer — “You’re working for the wrong man.”

“The Ides of March,” based on Beau Willimon’s play “Farragut North” (named for a Washington subway stop), veers from high-minded political theater to cheap political melodrama. But a cast littered with this many Oscar winners, all in support of a less-self-conscious-than-usual Ryan Gosling, could never go far wrong.

The film boasts a script of pithy political banter and sexy “drinks after work” bar banter.

“This is the Big Leagues, man. If you make a mistake, you lose the right to play.”

Giamatti and Hoffman are beautifully matched opponents, balancing the picture the way the on-the-make Wood and the on-the-job Tomei do in female supporting roles.

And Clooney, cool, collected, committed and above it all, makes the perfect candidate. He and Gosling are matched as the smart, never-let-them-see-you-sweat set, as opposed to the seething-sweating Giamatti and Hoffman.

“Ides of March” has a good script, not a great one. So it isn’t a great film. But it is a smart and high-minded one, wonderfully cast, with understated direction. Clooney is good enough in the lead to stir talk of a political future. But he’s good enough behind the camera to make one hope that he’ll commit to doing more of that, instead.

 

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei

Credits: Directed by George Clooney, written by Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on a play by Willimon. A Columbia Pictures release.

Running time: 1:41

 

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