Politics is a dirty business. No one can deny that. We, the voters, usually only see the face of it. Politicians throw mud at each other and demand that we watch, so it is easy to imagine what sorts of dastardly deals occur behind the scenes.
“The Ides of March,” adapted from the play “Farragut North,” is a fictionalized account of the 2004 Democratic Primary campaign of Harry Dean, represented here as Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). The film focuses on junior campaign manager Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), one of the greatest media minds in the game.
The setting is the Ohio primary: Governor Morris vs. Senator Ted Pullman. The race is tight, but it’s looking good for Morris. Meyers firmly believes in his candidate, but his world and career are shaken after a series of events proves to have unfortunate consequences: a seemingly innocent meeting with the opposing campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), and a tryst with intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Woods). Meyers finds himself sinking into a pit of mud into which he never foresaw the necessity of descending as he plays his dirty games to get things back to where they should be.
This is the fourth directorial effort of George Clooney, and he does a perfectly adequate job as such. In fact, “adequate” is a fair term to describe the film as a whole: it is for the most part taut and engaging and far from boring to watch. And yet, with the exception of a few key moments, it fails to excite beyond the closing credits.
The cast is fantastic, but the performance of the actors is – again – adequate. Luckily, “adequate” for George Clooney is often considered Oscar-worthy (see: “Up in the Air”), but we never forget that it is George Clooney that we are watching. He has a tendency to play himself, which is a shame, as we know he can be quite adaptable, as evidenced in films such as “Burn After Reading” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
The same applies to the rest of the cast – Ryan Gosling was extraordinary in “Half Nelson,” and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who plays the senior campaign manager in this film) has proven his versatility a number of times (“Capote,” “Almost Famous”), and yet here the viewer is always aware that we are watching Gosling and Hoffman. The acting is not bad – it’s quite good, actually – and yet we have come to expect more from these actors, and so their performances are merely… adequate.
“The Ides of March” is certainly worth watching, particularly if the prospective viewer has a vested interest in politics. However, it is not a must-see, and one might better spend their time viewing more memorable films such as “Frost/Nixon” or “Dr. Strangelove.”
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