It has taken me a little while longer than usual to come around to writing up George Clooney's latest directorial effort. Part of that is due to my scriptwriting MA and the increasing demands on my time. But an equal, or even larger, part is down to just being unsure what I made of The Ides of March.
Yes, the film is an intelligent, well acted and fairly involving peek behind the curtain of the world of politics (adapted from the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon). But beyond the film's obvious pedigree, I found myself feeling like something was not quite there; that the film hadn't completely enveloped me.
The world's current favourite heart-throb/internet meme Ryan Gosling is Stephen Myers, a young career campaigner who has managed to, somehow, maintain his idealism so far. The latest campaign he's working on is for George Clooney's Governor Mike Morris, running in the Democratic primary. Morris is the front-runner but his challenger is nipping at his heels; the contest isn't over yet. Morris has made a believer out of Myers - Morris is, essentially, the dream liberal politician and the man a lot people have pinned their hopes on.
That all changes when Myers agrees to a meeting with Paul Giamatti's Tom Duffy - the campaign manager for the other side. When Phillip Seymour Hoffman's campaign manager for Morris, Paul Zara, finds out he fires Myers. Myers, in the act of having his ego stroked and initially keeping it from Zara and Morris, finds his bright, fledgling career over. Not even Duffy will take him. The Ides of March is the story of the downfall of a, more or less, innocent man. How a good man can become a cold, calculating political animal. There's more to it, involving Evan Rachel Woods' smart, beautiful intern who Myers finds himself involved with
George Clooney's strength as a director lies in his unflashy presentation and ability to get out of the way of the material. He has, happily, moved on from the overt visual chicanery evidenced in his debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. He has built a library of obviously personal films and usually casts himself in a role that plays with his public persona; here as a Democratic candidate full of more Hope and Change than Obama and with the charm, charisma and intelligence of, well, George Clooney. But the film isn't the Clooney show - the role of Mike Morris is little more than an extended cameo with Gosling taking and owning the centre spotlight, while Giamatti, Hoffman and Marisa Tomei all do excellent work around him.
I cannot help but feel the story of Myers' descent would have been better served with a series; like a flipside to the optimism of The West Wing. An HBO mini-series would have allowed more room and time for the characters to really breathe. As it is, there are more than a couple sudden character reversals; one being a suicide that feels less like a real character decision and more like a plot device that was needed to get the story and characters into their required places. Very good, but falling just short of great. The Ides of March is a solid, intelligent and well-acted film that is not entirely remarkable.