Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
The Ides of March (2011)
George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” is a stark look at the ruthlessness involved in the world of politics. It presents two candidates vying for one position. Only one can have it. Those candidates and their campaign managers are willing to do whatever it takes to get it and are not shy when it comes to playing games of manipulation, backstabbing, and blackmail in order to accomplish their goals, whether it’s for the benefit of the campaign or their own personal ambition.
The candidates in question are Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) and Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell). Both men are trying to become the next Democratic candidate for President of the United States with only days before the Ohio primary. Morris has a fair sized lead and his campaign manager, Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman), believes that he has a great chance of winning the state. Paul’s assistant, Stephen (Ryan Gosling), is also working tirelessly to make sure this happens.
While everything seems to be going pretty well, Stephen suddenly receives a call from Pullman’s campaign manager, Tom (Paul Giamatti), who wants to have a meeting. Knowing that this would be quite controversial, Stephen decides to meet with him anyway to see what he has to say. At this meeting, Tom reveals that he believes Pullman has the Ohio primary wrapped up, especially with another senator about to endorse his candidate, the same senator that Morris was hoping to get. Tom also offers Stephen the chance to switch sides and work for the candidate he believes will win. Stephen refuses, thinking that no harm has been done by hearing him out, but this one little meeting turns out to have some big consequences.
“The Ides of March” had me worried for a little while. Its first half was a tad slow and wasn’t really elevating itself to the level of an interesting political thriller. Then the second half comes back with a vengeance. It is here where loyalties are called into question as strategic moves are played out like a pawn being moved around on a chessboard.
This isn’t as dark as other political thrillers of the past, and while the title, taken from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” may lead you to believe there are extremely dire results of the events, it actually deals more with character assassination. It shows that the power of information can be the strongest power of all when you’re trying to get what you want, especially when what you know about someone else can destroy their career for the rest of their life.
This is brought out in the well-written screenplay by Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon, based on the play “Farragut North” by Willimon. You may recall that the last time Clooney and Heslov got together to write a script, they delivered the great “Good Night, and Good Luck,” which dealt with Edward R. Murrow’s battle against the tyranny of Joseph McCarthy, so it’s clear these guys have a knack for putting together engaging stories.
Just because it’s not as dark as other political thrillers doesn’t mean it’s not as engrossing, especially when you get such an amazing cast. Gosling, who recently surprised audiences with his strange, minimalist performance in the excellent “Drive,” gives another good performance as a man who wants to hold loyal to his candidate, a man he considers his friend, but finds those loyalties tested as events unfold.
Giamatti, who as I’ve noted before is great at playing down-to-Earth guys, plays quite a different character than we’re used to seeing, and yet he’s great at it all the same. He’s not around very much in the film, but for the few scenes he has, he leaves a big impact, particularly in his final scene with Gosling in which more secrets are revealed. Likewise, Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers a great performance in just a few scenes, especially in a strong scene in which he preaches to Gosling about loyalty.
If the film had been able to get off the ground earlier, this probably would have been a great film. However, with its excellent performances, well-written screenplay, and engaging story, it’s still a very good film. There are even some who believe this film to have a lot of Oscar potential. While I think Best Picture is a little out of reach, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it earn a few acting nominations come January. Clooney has crafted an interesting film here, one that probably rings more true than we would like to believe. 3/4 stars.