The Ides of March tries hard to be both cunning and cutthroat in its depiction of politics as a dirty game. Who knew? The pacing in this political thriller is fast, so much so that it can get a mite confusing who’s screwing whom, metaphorically speaking—and sometimes otherwise. It’s clear, however, that the stellar cast is in love with the sounds of their voices ratatatting gritty, lengthy dialogue. It’s a somewhat intelligent undertaking, but one that lacks soul, let alone any real insight.
George Clooney, who also directed and cowrote the script with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, plays Pennsylvania Gov. Mike Morris, the kind of guy everybody who reads The New York Times wishes were running for president. He seems sincere, and he’s decent-looking. The rising star on his campaign team, Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), might have wet-nursed at Morris’s man boobs, so adoring and unquestioning is he of the governor’s rightness for public office, of his inherent promise of delivering this nation from evil. Of course, things can never seem as good as they are, not even in a movie in which Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing opposing campaign managers, get to ground out vinegary hate mots to each other. Myers’s innocence, perceived by others as premature wisdom, leads to a series of events that may have profound impact on Morris’ political future.
The movie tries hard to evoke the cloak-and-dagger spookiness of All the President’s Men and the backroom horse-trading of The Best Man. At the same time, the filmmakers try hard not to turn off what seems to be the film’s intended audience, whose naïveté at what they may find out about certain characters is equaled by their blatant mistrust of anyone in a suit running for office.
Gosling is quite good as the neophyte, and so is Evan Rachel Wood as an intern who is the kind of enigmatic sort you’d do well to warn your teenage sons about. As for the others, they’re seasoned performers doing one-character turns, with nobody really meshing together. The Ides of March is not a complete waste, but when it’s not trying hard to be a longer episode of The West Wing, it has the earnestness of a college documentary.