As adapted from the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, George Clooney’s The Ides of March contains little new in the way of radical social ideas or clever narrative twists. It covers ground that’s become familiar around the world, reminding us that political systems are inherently corrupt, candidates and officeholders are flawed and the media favor sensationalism over the truth. But credit must be given to Clooney – behind the camera for the second time – and his top-notch cast for investing themselves fully into the film to produce a taut thriller that serves to confirm our worst fears about the political system.
Clooney is Gov. Mike Morris, an idealistic candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who’s so liberal his policy proposals might make even those on the far left blanch. Charming, handsome and a whiz with a sound bite, he is favored to win the upcoming Ohio primary, which will pave the way for his run to the White House. His veteran advisor Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is cautious but hopeful about Morris’ chances, while his assistant, Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), is assured he’s backing a candidate who’s as true as his image and capable of making real change.
Of course, there are more than a few roadblocks standing in their way, chief among them Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), a wily strategist working for an opposing candidate, Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei), a tenacious reporter intent on digging up dirt wherever she can find it, and Sen. Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), an also-ran who controls key delegates that Morris needs but whose demands may be too great to wrest them free.
Clooney knows we’re covering familiar ground so he wastes little time enmeshing us in the tale. The behind-the-scenes machinations that go into shaping a campaign – the deals cut, the compromises made and the self-serving acts made in the name of professional survival – are all rendered in such a sharp, efficient manner that we can’t help but get wrapped up in it. It’s also fascinating to get an insider’s perspective on this process, a nihilistic machine in constant need of feeding, one that sours and destroys those who enter this arena regardless of their good intentions or nave idealism.
As expected, the strong cast delivers the goods, rendering their characters with all of the realistic angst we’ve come to expect from them. In a supporting role, Clooney knows how to use his presence to effectively punctuate scenes rather than dominate them. He leaves the heavy lifting to Gosling, who delivers yet another strong performance that’s distinctly different from his two previous 2011 features (Crazy, Stupid Love and Drive). Eager, gullible, desperate and finally hardened, the actor renders all of these notes with genuine passion in his portrayal of one man falling from grace.
A throwback to the hard-edged political films of the 1970s, Ides contains its fair share of twists and turns that propel it to its inevitable conclusion. While its message is dire, Clooney has fashioned a compelling entertainment that screams for reform. Too bad its cry, though well intentioned, will go unheard amid the cynicism and apathy that defines our times.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com.