“The Ides Of March”
By MICHAEL WALTERS
“The Ides Of March” boasts a murder’s row of Oscar winners and nominees all in the service of a story that belongs firmly back in the minor leagues. It’s a competently directed, reasonably well paced trip down a well worn path that offers absolutely no surprises whatsoever. What “Major League” was to sports movies, “The Ides Of March” is to political thrillers. There’s nothing wrong per se with this political drama about an idealistic strategist in the dirty world of presidential politics- if this is your sort of thing. But it doesn’t have nearly the tension or creative vitality you’d expect from this kind of talent.
George Clooney gets first billing as a democratic governor locked in a tight democratic presidential primary in Ohio. We know he’s different because he refuses to make the kind of compromises that might get him an edge in the delegates but dilute his message. Ryan Gosling is the idealistic young communications director helping steer the campaign. He’s drunk the campaign kool-aid and Clooney’s plan to shake up the old Washington system is precisely what appeals to him. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are two rival political dirty tricksters working backroom deals trying to gain an upper hand and the presidential nomination.
Gosling is the main focus here as the idealistic spin doctor finds out the folly of putting any political candidate on a pedestal. Trust, loyalty, and dignity are big themes throughout the film, and Gosling finds his own political faith under attack at every turn by the very political system he has devoted his life to.
Hoffman and Giamatti are easily the best part the movie- much more interesting than the candidate himself. Each is a chess master plotting endless back alley double crosses on one another. They both dig into their parts with a sort of devilish glee that brings the movie to life whenever either of them is onscreen. I frankly wish the movie had been about them instead.
The movie also throws in a political scandal, and a snooping reporter played by Marisa Tomei, but it telegraphs its moves so much you can see its twists and turns coming from a mile away. It will come as no surprise to anyone with a pulse that politics is a dirty business. Unfortunately once you’ve said that, “The Ides Of March” doesn’t have much else to say.