The big revelations in The Ides of March are that politics is a dirty business and idealists are doomed to compromise their values — or even forsake them — in order to get elected. But the movie, the fourth directed by George Clooney, who also co-wrote the screenplay, is so impeccably acted and grippingly paced that its lack of revelation doesn’t matter. The story unfolds through the eyes of Stephen (Ryan Gosling), press secretary for Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney), who is the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president. The only thing standing between the popular Morris and the nomination is the state of Ohio, whose delegates are up for grabs and could potentially be stolen by Morris’ competitor, Sen. Pullman (Michael Mantell).
So his team hunkers down to ensure their candidate wins the state. Stephen works closely with Paul (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Morris’ campaign manager, to make sure Morris’ radical campaign promises are heard around the country: No new cars with internal combustion engines! Two-year mandatory service for all 18-year-olds, military or stateside, in exchange for a fully-paid college education! Morris is charismatic and likable and media-savvy: He’s smooth, his staff likes him and he seems to genuinely believe in what he preaches. Stephen manipulates a persistent, pesky reporter (Marisa Tomei), who could be the key to an endorsement by an influential senator (Jeffrey Wright) that would seal a victory for Morris.
Clooney knows he’s not breaking any new thematic ground with The Ides of March: Instead, he’s presenting an overview of a present-day political machine, viewed through the naïve eyes of one of its youngest members. Stephen is much more experienced than his age, 30, would imply. But he’s not seasoned enough to realize that simply taking an informal meeting with a member of the opposite camp (Paul Giamatti), or indulging in a one-night stand with a beautiful intern (Evan Rachel Wood), all have consequences far more damaging than he could imagine.
Gosling continues to prove he may the best actor of his generation. His performance in The Ides of March, following his comedic turn in Crazy, Stupid Love and his portrayal of a stoic loner in Drive, proves this actor is capable of practically anything. Stephen is sharp, professional and ruthless, but he’s about to learn the business he’s in is treacherous and unforgiving, and anyone will say or do whatever is required to earn the desired result, regardless of loyalty, honesty or simple human decency. Clooney’s performance as Morris is trickier (the character was never seen in the original play): He’s a candidate so convincing and inspiring, it is inconceivable he won’t eventually end up in the White House. But at what cost? The Ides of March is smart, invigorating entertainment that reminds you the only person you can trust less than a used car salesman is a politician.
Cast: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright.
Director: George Clooney.
Screenwriters: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon. Based on Willimon’s play “Farragut North.”
Producers: Grant Heslov, George Clooney, Brian Oliver.
A Columbia Pictures release. Running time: 100 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, adult themes. Opens Friday Oct. 7 at area theaters.