- Rated R
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All photos © Columbia Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
n its surface, “The Ides of March” is really no different than any other thriller set in the dog-eat-dog world of politics, but what sets it apart from a lot of those movies is its incredibly talented cast. Though the film is only George Clooney’s fourth trip behind the camera, he’s starting to look like an old pro, especially with the kind of clout that he brings from the acting world. Similar to the way that Clint Eastwood seems to have his pick of the litter, so does Clooney, who’s populated his film with real actor’s actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. And it does the movie wonders, because while “The Ides of March” is well written and skillfully directed, it’s the performances that make the film so riveting.
Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Myers, an idealistic media manager working on the campaign of presidential hopeful Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). Though the race to the White House hasn’t even begun, many pundits have singled out the Democratic primary as the real contest, with the upcoming election in Ohio promising to be the deciding factor in which candidate will go on to win. Morris’ campaign manager Paul Zara (Hoffman) knows they’d be a lock for the Democratic ticket if they could just get the endorsement of Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), but Thompson wants a major cabinet seat in exchange for his support, and Morris refuses to tarnish his campaign with such shady backroom deals. When Stephen meets with rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Giamatti) against his better judgment, however, he sets into motion a series of events that could affect the outcome of the election and cost him his integrity in the process.
Based on the Beau Willimon play, “Farragut North" (which was itself inspired by the 2004 campaign of Democratic candidate Howard Dean), “The Ides of March” is a classic morality tale about how power corrupts. Though it’s not dripping in nearly as much paranoia and intrigue as the trailer suggests, the story is still ripe with the kind of deliciously tense encounters (often taking place in darkened rooms, naturally) that fuel most political thrillers. It’s also the perfect vehicle for Clooney to direct, because it provides him with the opportunity to indulge in his political side without ever being too controversial. The scandalous secret at the center of the film is a bit contrived and silly, but the actors do a good job of making it seem a lot less melodramatic than it really is.
As mentioned earlier, the acting is top-notch all around – particularly Ryan Gosling as the idealistic campaign worker who learns to be more pragmatic as the story goes on. Gosling has already delivered two great performances this year in “Drive” and “Crazy Stupid Love,” and while both of those movies showcased his talents in very different ways, “The Ides of March” is perhaps his most grown-up role yet – a passing of the torch of sorts between one charming leading man to another. The rest of the cast fares just as well (including Marisa Tomei as a pushy journalist and Evan Rachel Wood as a campaign intern who gets intimate with Stephen), although I wish that Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti had gotten the chance to properly square off against each other, because their one brief scene together is pretty tame for such dynamic actors.
Even with so many fantastic performances, though, "The Ides of March" still has a few minor problems that prevent it from achieving its full potential; many of which can't be discussed here for the sake of not spoiling anything. It's a solid thriller that could turn into a dark horse contender come awards season, but the movie is missing the sort of cutting edge that separates the truly great films from those that are simply really good.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
“The Ides of March” arrives on Blu-ray with a respectable collection of bonus material highlighted by an audio commentary with director/co-writer/actor George Clooney and co-writer/producer Grant Heslov. The duo also appears throughout the various other extras on the disc, including featurettes about the cast, adapting the stage play for the big screen, and what exactly a political consultant does, while the film’s stars gush about their experiences working with the multihyphenate in "Believe: George Clooney."