George Clooney has his limitations as an actor (only recently has age made him more interesting in films like Up in the Air), but his directorial career is well funded and courageous enough to take him anywhere. The Hollywood star now follows up his unusual 2008 birth-of-football comedy Leatherheads with a cynical political drama scaled to an intimate scope. It mostly transpires in takeout-container-strewn campaign offices and hotel rooms; The Ides of March, verbal and Lumet-like, is lovably for wonks only.
If only David Mamet had been around for a spit and polish. Ryan Gosling, watchable as ever, plays Stephen, an experienced campaign staffer who nonetheless has ideals in danger of being smashed. He loves his guy for President (Clooney), but while romping with an attractive intern (Wood, with this and HBO’s Mildred Pierce turning into the angel of death), Stephen learns something he’d rather not have learned. Can the push for the nomination survive a broken heart?
The arc of the story, from a Howard Dean-inspired play by Beau Willimon, is a touch predictable; the very way it casts off its earnestness is, in its manner, too earnest. But there’s choice work on the sidelines, hinting at a grittier appreciation of day-after-day salesmanship.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and a ratlike Paul Giamatti are the competing spin doctors – you wish the whole movie were about them. And Marisa Tomei brings a hungry sense of scoopmaking to the (unavoidable?) role of a New York Times journalist who’s seen it all.