The Ides of March

October, 2011, Drama

Directed by:George Clooney

George Clooney’s latest triple-threat production (actor, director, screenwriter) continues his penchant for acidic observations about America’s political institutions without reaching the high standards he set with his depiction of Edward R. Murrow (Good Night and Good Luck). Despite strong showings from Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti , Clooney and a stellar performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman) Ides  comingles soap opera melodrama with a cynically jaundiced view of the machinations accompanying American political campaigns.  The results, while initially intriguing, can’t do justice to the film’s subject matter and the crisp pacing of its storyline.


Gosling plays a veteran political operative working for Clooney’s presidential candidacy under the gruff, no-nonsense direction of campaign manager Hoffman.  The candidate is a model of liberal idealist - - rational, inclusive and apparently dedicated to seeking office without compromising his values. Gosling’s swept up in Clooney’s cause, but Hoffman manages the grinding effort to support his candidate not out of idealistic commitment to the Clooney’s stated goals, but because doing so is a job he’s done before - - often and well.


When the opposition candidate’s chief of staff, (Giamatti) lures Gosling into a compromising meeting days before a crucial Ohio primary, his once-promising career appears over. But a sexual indiscretion offers Gosling the opportunity to sacrifice principle for career expediency. In doing so, his decision and Clooney’s response provide the final reel of Ides  with a bleak assessment of the moral character of those seeking political office and the staffers who support their efforts.


Clooney’s depiction of a left-wing Democratic aspirant to the Oval Office is seductively deft; he’s witty, articulate and decisive, apparently personifying precisely those qualities most Americans profess to seek in presidential races…but the stress of moving from lofty sentiments to hard practical decisions takes its toll. Gosling’s initial enthusiasm for his boss suggests a high degree of naiveté, but the actor’s fey smile and glib demeanor suggest that when the sharks begin to circle, he’ll prove as politically ruthless as his opponents. Only Hoffman, broad of paunch and profanely blunt of opinion, conducts himself according to his principles - - but they’re set at such a low, calculating level what’s worth emulating?


That said, Clooney’s to be praised for delivering a political drama which not only assumes that his audience can think - - but which requires them to reach moral judgments as it does so.  The film’s production qualities are competent and Cincinnati’s grey winter skies provide a suitably drab visual accent to the movie’s ambiguous moral landscape. But it’s Hoffman’s hard-bitten campaign manager that emerges as the best thing about Ides: no other actor currently at work in American films can embody the diverse elements of an essentially off-putting character as the gifted actor who divides his time between the New York stage and movie roles as diverse as Moneyball (a dyspeptic major league baseball manager) Doubt (a dangerously appealing priest) the profanely hilarious C.I.A. agent in Charlie Wilson’s War and his Oscar-winning recreation of the troubled literary genius who authored In Cold Blood (Capote.).  Hoffman’s choice of roles isn’t always equal to his talents (Pirate Radio, Mission Impossible III) but he always manages to enliven the films he appears in.


The Verdict? Not a superb movie, but a well-written if deeply cynical one offering a cluster of worthy performances.

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