Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star in this adaptation of a play about a Governor in the home stretch of a Democratic nomination campaign; Clooney also directed and co-wrote the screenplay. Gosling plays Steve, the up-and-coming strategist helping his mentor Paul (Hoffman) get the handsome liberal Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) elected. Steve is successfully tempted to spend the night with a campaign intern (Evan Rachel Wood) and unsuccessfully tempted to jump to a rival’s campaign by another strategist (Paul Giamatti), both of which lead to complications that threaten to ruin his own reputation and the Governor’s campaign.
Much like in Drive, Gosling does a good job of portraying a strong silent type faced with an ethical dilemma when it turns out that those he trusts are not the people he thought. This is not an earth-shaking story with car chases or explosions; it is a depiction of people from both ends of the political chain, their ideals and the compromises that they choose (or are forced) to make in the hope of doing good afterward.
It says a lot for one’s career that I can watch a film like this and say that it is only the third best film of Gosling’s last year, and the second best of Clooney’s, but there it is. The Ides of March does not deserve any Oscars, but it certainly deserves to be watched, and it would be nice to see its political ideas discussed instead of the silly horseshit that the Republican candidates are currently throwing around.
As an actor, Clooney makes his nice-guy-with-a-dark-streak look easy. As a director and screenwriter, he has the wisdom to let Gosling do the heavy lifting. Clooney is not Clint Eastwood yet, but he is well on his way.
We have got to start giving George Clooney more credit. I think a lot of people are still thinking of him as the Ocean’s Eleven guy, the Perfect Storm guy, christ, maybe even the Batman & Robin guy. Personally, I have started to think of him as the Solaris guy. The Out of Sight guy. The Up in the Air guy. You know, that guy. That’s the one who is in The Descendants, a lawyer called Matt King who struggles to reconnect with two young daughters after their adventurous mother has a boating accident and winds up in a coma from which she will not recover. The daughters are played excellently by Shailene Woodley (The Secret Life of the American Teenager) and Amanda Miller.
Director and co-writer Alexander Payne also wrote and directed Sideways, and that movie resonates here as well, especially when King packs the girls on a road trip that has a dual purpose: to see the family’s amazing parcel of land that may soon be sold, and to confront the real estate agent his wife had been seeing on the side. Much like Sideways, everyone is drawn in shades of gray with no clear hero or villain, and the core cast and strong supporting cast are more than up to the script they have been given. My only significant complaint is that there is a coincidence in the script that binds together the two main plot threads in a way that I did not really buy, and did not really even feel was necessary.
This movie is getting a lot of Oscar buzz, presumably due to the Clooney-Payne connection, and I guess it deserves it as much as any of the other contenders, but I don’t really see it as particularly groundbreaking or impressive; it’s a solid family drama with the unusual and beautiful backdrop and sensibilities of Hawaii. I appreciate that the cast did not chew scenery and the script is not emotionally manipulative. You want a film like this to feel real, or at least plausible, and it does.