The Ides of March is a movie to see for its cast more than anything else. It is a chance to see a bunch of great actors–including George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood–all in “serious actor mode.” It is the sort of grown-up movie which offers an alternative for those who can only take so much superheroes and explosions. The characters here deliver grandiose speeches about ideals and the way the world, politics, and other things, really work.
The story follows Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling, hot off the heels of his terrific performance in Drive), an intelligent and very talented Junior Campaign Manager who is working for Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), an idealistic presidential candidate, in Ohio which (if they win) is pretty much what will clinch the nomination. As the campaign rages on and tensions mount, Meyers soon finds himself in the deep end of dirty politics.
As well as giving another worthy performance on-screen, Clooney lends his writing and directing talents behind the camera, delivering a solid if unremarkable tale of the politics of politics, if it can be described as such. It is a handsomely made film that looks very slick and polished, with dramatic yet still believable dialogue (even if its not on par with the work of The West Wing‘s Aaron Sorkin, the inevitable comparison) and a cast of many known and respected actors all delivering top performances. This follows Clooney’s previous directorial work such as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night and Good Luck, and Leatherheads, standing as neither his best nor his worst effort.
The film does stumble a few times over its pleasingly brisk 100 minute runtime, particularly when it comes to a few of the plot choices writers Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon (adapting from his play Farragut North) choose to utilize. The script unfortunately takes its eye off the ball here and there, sometimes favouring heavy-handed dramatic twists (one in particular involving Wood’s character) that ultimately that detract from the overall impact of the film.
While a perfectly serviceable and enjoyable look behind the flag curtain of politics, The Ides of March doesn’t push past that to become anything truly memorable. The film does not have anything particularly revelatory to say, with the simple “Even the best of politicians do bad things sometimes” barked at just about every turn. It is unfortunate a film of this type doesn’t bring anything fresh to the table. It’s a relatively safe piece which relies heavily on its cast, but luckily that cast is easily one of the best assembled this year, allowing for any glaring problems to be overlooked. In short, it is a shining example of what a strong cast can do for an otherwise fairly standard political drama.