Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Please check that you’re going to the right Ryan Gosling movie this weekend. Stumble into this one, and rather than watching a moody thriller, you’re likely to find yourself in the midst of an American Democrat Presidential runoff with plenty of political backstabbing and betrayals.
Gosling, who seems to be finding his mojo this year, portrays Stephen, the idealistic second in command to political strategist Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who’s running the campaign of the charismatic Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Running against Morris is Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell), who’s as doomed as his hairline. Trying to keep abreast of the experienced Paul is Tom Duffy, played by Paul Giamatti.
Morris is well ahead of Pullman, and the lynchpin seems to lie with Senator Thompson (Jefferey Wright), who can pull the deciding votes to either candidate. Stephen somehow finds time for some nookie with a pretty intern Molly, played by Evan Rachel Wood. Soon Stephen finds himself a pawn in game between Paul and Tom, even as he uncovers some secrets that wear away his idealism.
Directed by Clooney, this political drama would probably not have an easy time finding an audience here, despite its star power. The acting is excellent, but most of the characters seem half-realised, as part of the political machinery as a poster design. The actors also don’t really step away from their previous roles, and Hoffman might have portrayed one too many slurring, overconfident characters for his own good.
Of course, the film rests on Gosling’s shoulders, and as Stephen, whose innocent idealism is eroded by the end of the film, he puts in a sterling performance that shows his versatility and sheer presence. He has an intensity that he knows how to turn on and off like a tap. Even Clooney has to fight to get noticed next to Gosling, with his not-even-trying charm, though Gosling seems a little bit too uncaring.
The film, based on a play, is sharp and pointed. Stephen makes a mistake that has dire consequences, and to get back into the game, has to compromise some of his ideals. No, Clooney doesn’t paint over the flaws of the Democrats here, even if Morris seems like the perfect candidate.
While the men have strong traits, the women in the film come across as more like plot devices, particularly Molly. The other main female is a journalist (Marisa Tomei), who is willing to blackmail to get what she wants.
The Ides of March starts off slowly, setting down its players before fully going into motion. The film lacks much flair, with a lot of talking heads, and sometimes it’s not always clear what Clooney is driving at.
Nonetheless, even if you found yourself here by accident and aren’t too cynical about American politics, you can stay on and find yourself mentally intrigued by this middleweight political drama. With Gosling steering, it’s definitely worth a watch, even if it’s not quite as interesting as it wants to be.