A politcal drama set during the Democratic primary in Ohio as the idealistic Stephen Meyer (Gosling), press secretary for presidential candidate Mike Morris (Clooney) is forced to learn the dirtier side of politics the hard way.
Based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, George Clooney’s fourth stint behind the camera focuses on the ruthless political landscape of the Democratic primary in Ohio. It’s a welcome return to political drama for Clooney, a well known Democrat himself, after the ill-conceived period football comedy Leatherheads. Though a more generic narrative and less political conviction ensure The Ides of March never quite reaches the heights of his 2005 effort Good Night, & Good Luck, the result is still an extremely effective political thriller.
Central to the film’s events is young Stephen Meyer (Ryan Gosling), an idealistic press secretary working on the campaign of Mike Morris, a staunch liberal played with smooth talking charisma by Clooney himself. Early scenes establish Stephen as a talented rising star in the political world who is fiercely devoted to Morris and his campaign manager Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).
However, Stephen’s head is soon turned in two different directions, first by Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the cynical campaign manager of Morris’ rival in the primary, who has information to suggest his charge is a shoo-in for the nomination and wants Stephen to work for him. Stephen agrees to meet with Duffy, throwing his position within Morris’ team in jeopardy.
Then there’s the sexy young intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), who seduces Stephen in a couple of very well played scenes and the pair begin a clandestine relationship, though it soon emerges that Molly has a secret that is potentially devastating to Stephen and the campaign, thus pulling proceedings in the direction of generic Hollywood thriller rather than the sharp political leanings of the film’s first half.
Though Molly’s subplot involves a series of plot contrivances that could belong to a lesser film, that’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable and well played by Wood. She makes Molly a confident, mature young woman but also earns our sympathy as she heads towards a dead end, making her eventual fate all the more powerful.
Clooney as a director has yet to find a trademark style, an artistic stamp that marks his films out as his own but what he does do, like Clint Eastwood, is tell a good story, letting the actors loose on the material. This is key to The Ides of March, where Clooney’s greatest move is assembling a phenomenal cast. Gosling adds another impressive performance to his ever growing CV, which this year alone has also included such diverse projects as Drive and Crazy, Stupid Love. Essential to the film’s success are Hoffman and Giamatti, two of the finest character actors in the business, both bringing great realism to their cynical, world weary campaign managers. Also on hand is Jeffrey Wright, as a senator who is a key player in the outcome of the primary, who’s straight faced performance is a master class in subtlety.
The film is not without it’s flaws, as the plot pivots on a few big contrivances, but The Ides of March is a solid political thriller elevated by a stellar cast of some of the best actors working right now. It never quite reaches the heights it perhaps could, but that’s not to say it isn’t an entertaining, thrilling film that’s classy and professional throughout.