While a perfectly fine political drama, The Ides of March suffers under the misconception that its premise – that politics is a dirty game and ideals are the first thing to die in the pursuit of power – is revelatory. Anyone who ran for student council in high school can tell you it's not. Yet when this truth is revealed to young campaigner Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), his world is thrown off its axis.
Working the campaign for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), a Democrat hoping to secure that Party's nomination to run for President of the United States, Stephen is a hot shot going places. The rival Democrats want him to come work for them, but he rebuffs the advances of that campaign's manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti at his weasel-like best): Stephen is big on loyalty – to both the Governor and the man who hired him, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – and his own ideals.
But those ideals don't prevent him from fraternising with Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), a spunky young intern and 10 years his junior. Gosling and Wood have great chemistry together but I'm guessing it's not hard to feign desire for Gosling (some may say the same of Wood). It's during their midnight assignations that Steven unearths a grenade which threatens not only to rock the Governor's campaign but Stephen's whole belief system.
Clooney's Governor Morris would seem to be an amalgam of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, two of the US Democrats' most promising stars in recent years whose lustre, for reasons of their own doing (Clinton's sexual indiscretions; Obama's mishandling of the GFC, giving Wall Street a free pass), was lost.
A Democrat himself, Clooney, directing his fourth film, doesn't let the Party off easy: there are no Republicans in The Ides of March for the Democrats do a perfectly good job of destroying themselves. Yet none of this in-fighting, backstabbing or abandonment of ideals is as revelatory or earth-shattering as Clooney and his co-writers – Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, from whose play, Farragut North, Ides is adapted – would have us believe.
Even if ironically, or fittingly, like so many political candidates (and movies, for that matter), the film delivers less than what it promises, The Ides of March succeeds as an engaging political drama. Gosling, on a roll in 2011, Clooney, graciously playing a supporting role, and Giamatti and Hoffman (whom I could have used more of) are all in fine form and worthy of your vote.