Friends, Charlotteans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Clooney, not to praise him. It's not that I love Clooney less, but that I love good movies more.
And for huge chunks at a time, The Ides of March is a good movie. What's more, director-producer-cowriter-star George Clooney is not only a fine filmmaker but also a fine American, espousing the progressive ideals that, when adopted by those in charge, help make this country great. These ideals are regurgitated in this slick motion picture (adapted from Beau Willimon's play Farragut North, with the playwright sharing script credit with Clooney and Grant Heslov), with the suave leading man using his charisma to punch across the character of Governor Mike Morris, a presidential aspirant locked in a heated battle with another Democrat for the party's nomination. His press secretary, Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), believes in him and works hand in hand with campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to insure victory. Stephen is ambitious and intelligent, so it's no surprise that the opponent's campaign manager (Paul Giamatti) tries to lure him to their side, that a New York Times reporter (Marisa Tomei) turns to him for insider info, and that a cute intern (Evan Rachel Wood) climbs into bed with him. But Stephen gets blindsided by dirty politics — literally — and is further stunned to discover a secret that could derail the whole campaign.
This is basically Gosling's movie, which is a good thing since Clooney's character largely just shows up to deliver speeches that reflect the actor's real-life liberal leanings. It's not that I disagree with what's being spoken, but there are more inventive ways for a film to lay out its agenda without resorting to ham-fisted proselytizing (see: Bulworth; Bob Roberts). Yet ultimately, the movie's simplistic view of the political landscape is no worse than the melodramatic turn it takes late in the game.
Still, despite its faults, there's much to take away from this piece, starting with the superlative performances by old pros Giamatti and Hoffman and the still-rising Wood. And when Clooney the director manages to keep Clooney the actor away from the podium, there are some juicy exchanges and pointed one-liners flying between the other cast members. The Ides of March is satisfying and frustrating in equal measure; just mark it down as a split ticket.