by Tim Ross
When a political thriller bears the name of one of Shakespeare’s more famous phrases, it sets lofty expectations. George Clooney’s latest turn as a director/star – and this time screenwriter as well – “The Ides of March,” doesn’t quite meet those expectations, but it does have more intrigue than the current political landscape.
I’m not a soothsayer like the one who utters to Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March,” in Shakespeare’s tale of ancient Roman intrigue “Julius Caesar,” but I can predict this film won’t last as long as Caesar’s timeless tale. There are too many plot anomalies and story flaws for Clooney’s film to succeed on every level.
But it does star Clooney and Ryan Gosling, one of Hollywood’s hottest young actors, and it does have more than a handful of scenes filled with slick dialogue, compelling dilemmas and, well, George Clooney and Ryan Gosling.
Clooney plays governor Michael Morris, a clear-eyed, unapologetic liberal and dreamer. He answers questions with frank confidence and never backs down from a challenge to his record. He promises change, a familiar refrain in today’s politics. Gosling is Stephen Myers, a hardened political veteran by the age of 30, and Moore’s senior campaign staffer – and perhaps his most staunch supporter.
Campaign manager Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and beat reporter Ida (Marisa Tomei) serve as Greek chorus members who expound on the realities of campaign life, but Stephen follows his instincts out of love for his candidate and what he thinks Moore can do for his country.
Moore and his Democratic rival are battling over the swing state of Ohio for the presidential nomination as and the two campaigns duke it out over the airwaves. Moore seems to be well on his way to sewing up the Ohio primary when Stephen makes a critical mistake and, ultimately, Stephen must choose between his ideals and the brittle reality of political survival.
Clooney the screenplay author writes himself into some flimsy plot corners, but Clooney the director presents a textured, shadow-laden piece of political noir and his actors are in sync with one another.
Gosling goes from bemused to world-weary to ticked-off with the faintest of facial expressions and Clooney wisely surrounds himself with fantastic character actors like Hoffman, Tomei and Paul Giamatti. And Clooney the actor plays an intelligent, well-groomed man that we’ve seen many times in his film career.
“Ides of March” is well-timed given the current interest in a crowded Republican primary race and the upcoming election season, but it doesn’t break new ground or evoke probing post-film conversation. But it does star George Clooney and Ryan Gosling.
Grade: 2 1/2 out of 4
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language
Cast: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling,
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures