George Clooney is some kind of machine. He’s in two movies this year, including The Ides of March, which he also co-wrote, directed and produced. And like everything he’s directed it’s good, but falls short of greatness. Ryan Gosling stars as Stephens Myers, a wunderkind political analyst who’s one of the most important men behind Governor Morris (Clooney), but as the campaign comes it’s most contested primary, political and personal drama shows what these men are made of.

The Players:

The Plot:

Stephen Myers (Gosling) is the man behind the man behind the throne, working on Governor Morris’s campaign to be president. Paul Zara (Hoffman) is in charge of the campaign, but everyone sees Myers as the rising star, even the interns, including Molly Stearns (Wood), who is indelicate in her advances. Myers gets a call from Tom Duffy (Giamatti), who’s running the opposition’s campaign, and delivers a blow – he says they have Senator Thompson (Wright) and his votes in their pocket, and without Thompson’s support, their candidate may be dead in the water. But then it’s revealed that Myers isn’t the only one who’s slept with Molly.

The Good:

  • This cast: Seriously, every single major actor in the film is great, and they all get a scene or two to shine (and/or yell). And when you’ve got titans of acting like Hoffman and Giamatti, you want them to have some good red meat scenes to eat. They do, and they deliver.
  • Not Preachy: Though Morris is a true-blue democrat, that’s the setting, the machinations of the plot aren’t really about that, and politics never drive the story so much as the machinations and backstabbing that come from a heated political campaign.
  • Pacing: For a film about the behind the scenes, Clooney and company were smart to keep this thing moving, and it’s a brisk 101 minutes that never dawdles.
  • The Machinations: In the film there are schemes and plans within plans that work either for or against the characters. From dropping information to a reporter (Tomei), to who people talk to, there’s some good plotting in the film.

The Bad

  • In summation: This movie is trying to call a shot, it’s trying to show the corruption of a character, but the pieces don’t add up. The idea of a character like Gosling’s losing his innocence while in the midst of a huge political campaign suggests he wasn’t wet enough behind the ears, or that the moment itself doesn’t matter. You wonder why someone would sleep with two characters in the order they do and few things seem like isolated incidents. I left the film with a lot of questions about what happened, and not in a good way.
  • Myers/Gosling: Fine in the part, Gosling doesn’t have a great facility to show the wheels turning in his head, though that works (in some ways) for the character. But when the film moves into its final machinations, his moves to regain control aren’t based on his political skill. And for a film that spends a lot of time suggesting he’s one of the great minds of his generation, and a born political animal, it would have been good to see him use those skills – at least once. That’s partly why the end doesn’t hit as hard as it’s trying to.

Overall:

There’s enough here to enjoy what’s going on, but it’s reach exceeds its grasp.The Ides of March is an intelligent, thoughtful thriller, but it’s missing profundity. That would be an unfair complaint if it didn’t think it was saying something deeper than it does.

Rating: 7/10

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