George Clooney’s new political film The Ides of March opened last Friday and so far it appears to have mostly gotten positive reviews that are more respectful than enthusiastic. Well, I saw The Ides of March on Tuesday evening and all I can say is “Don’t believe everything you hear.” That should be a given but it’s always worth repeating. The Ides of March is a slow, ponderous, and at times completely annoying movie, a minor work dealing with major themes.
The film is based on the play Farragut North and it’s about Stephen (Ryan Gosling), a political consultant who is working on the presidential campaign of Gov. Mike Morris (George Clooney). Morris is a typical Hollywood Democratic politician in that he gives a lot of speeches attacking America’s dependence on foreign oil and he’s not ashamed to admit that he’s an atheist. Anyway, despite the fact that Morris comes across as being smug and something of a sexist, he’s the front runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination but only if he can win the Ohio primary. For all of his attempts to be as cynical as his mentor (Philip Seymour Hoffman, giving a typical Philip Seymour Hoffman performance), Stephen truly believes in Mike Morris. However, Stephen comes across some information that could potentially destroy Morris’ campaign and he soon finds himself a pawn in a game between Morris, the press (represented by Marisa Tomei, who looks terrible in this film), and the opposing campaign (managed by Paul Giamatti).
Yes, The Ides of March has a lot to say but it’s absolutely nothing you haven’t heard before and, quite frankly, it’s kind of annoying how the film seems to think that this is the first time that anyone’s ever suggested that maybe politics is a dirty business. The film’s not a total waste because there’s way too many talented people involved here for the film not to have the occasional good moment. Gosling and Clooney both give strong performances and play off each other well. They have a scene where they confront each other in a deserted kitchen and for a few brief seconds, the film actually gets interesting. Playing an emotionally unstable intern, Evan Rachel Wood shows once again that she’s one of the best actresses working today and it’s just a shame that the film treats her more like a plot device than an actual human being. At the same time, I have to say that this is the first time I’ve ever seen Paul Giamatti actually give a performance that can only be called bad. Seriously, how could the same actor who was so brilliant in Win Win be so terrible in this movie?
Ultimately though, the film fails because — once you get past all the glamour on-screen — what you have is a very predictable political film that, especially in these days of Tea Parties and Occupy Movements, feels rather quaint and forced. This is yet another one of those films where, apparently, the only way that the main character can learn a lesson is for a supporting character to commit suicide. There’s a lot of would-be cynical dialogue and Clooney manages to include references to Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report but ultimately, the whole film feels as false as the romantic short stories I used to write in the 8th grade.
The film’s name is obviously meant to carry hints of Shakespeare but perhaps a more honest title would have been Much Ado About Nothing.