The Ides of March

The Ides of March is George Clooney’s fourth feature film as a director and his second political drama.  The first one, Good Night and Good Luck, was so good I was really looking forward to this one.  They are two different approaches to the topic, however.  Good Night was about the titanic struggle between two men representing freedom and fear.  Ides is a low key Machiavellian melodrama, which isn’t as ambitious nor ultimately as satisfying.

Stephen Myers, played by Ryan Gosling, is an up and coming press agent.  He’s talented and still idealistic enough to believe that his candidate, Mike Morris, played by George Clooney, is above the muck and compromise of pragmatic politics.  His boss, the head of the campaign, Paul Zara, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, knows better and knows how to get Morris the Democratic nomination.  They’ve reached a critical point in the campaign, the Ohio primary, and they are encamped in Cincinnati, frantically running around the state, giving speeches and press conferences.

The drama begins when the manager of the other major candidate, Tom Duffy, played by Paul Giamatti, offers Stephen a job.  What results is plot that twists and turns and manages to test Stephen’s idealism.  The theme, of course, is that everybody in politics is compromised to a certain extent.  That’s the theme of most of these things from All the King’s Men to The Candidate.

This is, of course, a great cast that does a tremendous job.  Gosling is one of the best young actors in Hollywood today.  Giamatti and Hoffman are immensely talented and Clooney does well too, even though he doesn’t demand much from himself in this film.  The script by Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willamon is based partially on Willamon’s play Farragut  North.  It is well paced, with believable dialog and characterization.  There are a few moments when the story’s stage origins show through, but mostly they did a pretty good pretty good job of adapting it to the screen.

It’s the limited scope of the project that hamstrings it.  Political drama always seems weighty and it is jarring to see such a lightweight plot portrayed by this cast and in this manner.  You expect a grand statement but what you get is a serviceable melodrama.

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