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Almost a WINNER

Ides of March casts vote for politics of disappointment

By Philip Martin

This article was published October 7, 2011 at 3:20 a.m.

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Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is an up-and-coming political campaign strategist whose naive enthusiasm is repaid with disappointment in George Clooney’s political thriller The Ides of March.

— There is a certain tidiness to George Clooney’s solid if predictable political thriller The Ides of March that marks it as a conservative entertainment product rather than the liberal screed some might have expected.

While you could argue that Clooney’s personal politics creep into the speeches his character,presidential candidate Gov. Mike Morris (D-Pa.), occasionally delivers in the film, they are just there as so much boilerplate, a kind of verbal Greeking meant to signal to the audience that they’re hearing the stump speech of an ideological maverick. Morris is the sort of candidate who gets a certain kind of National Public Radio listener excited. He looks like George Clooney. Let’s all vote!

He’s actually a peripheral character in the drama, one who exists in order that his young but invaluable campaign aide Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) might believe in him. Stephen is second in command on Morris’ campaign, working under Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and we learn through a series of subtle but unmistakable cues that Meyers is a formerly cynical veteran of various campaigns (he’s 30, but has worked as many races as most 40-year-olds).

But he believes, he really believes in Morris - as he tells New York Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei, sporting Swifty Lazar spectacles and with all semblance of her defining sexual allure extinguished beneath an avalanche of heavy winter clothes), he has “drunk the Kool-Aid” and found it “delicious.” Stephen has surprised himself with this; he knows that Ida’s warning that Morris “is a politician” bound to disappoint him is the truth. But maybe he has reached a point where he either believes or gives up entirely and takes a job in a K Street lobbying firm.

Yet Stephen is not completely a political monk. When he’s contacted by Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), the campaign manager for Morris’ chief rival for the Democratic nomination (a barely glimpsed Arkansas senator whose salient issue seems to be Morris’ professed agnosticism), he’s curious enough to have lunch with his frenemy. But he’s not at all tempted by the job Duffy dangles before him. Sure, it’s flattering, but Stephen is sure Morris ought to be president.

Still, he leaves the meeting with the uneasy feeling that the race may be closer than he had assumed. So much rides on a would-be kingmaker senator (Jeffrey Wright) who might lend his support to whichever candidate makes him the best offer.

And Stephen seems to be equally sure that he’s worthy of the attentions of the curiously forward intern (Evan Rachel Wood) who invites him down to the budget hotel where the campaign parks its volunteers to drink with the worker bees. Since he’s not running for anything, he doesn’t have any scruples about sleeping with what might be a teenager.

Things play out, as they inevitably do. Disillusionment falls over the just as well as the duplicitous in the familiar way of grown-up movies about politics. Which is to say, The Ides of March is not, as the title suggests, so much about grand betrayal as it is the serial disappointments that existence comprises, the general pettiness of humankind and the crushing moment when decent people realize their complicity in the world’s rottenness. It’s another Oscar-seeking drama.

And it’s fine, it really is, with probably the best cast we’ll see all year. It gets a lots of the details of the particular world it seeks to re-create right. Gosling and Clooney provide impeccable readings, though their lines lack the crackle and pop that informs genuinely stinging dialogue.

Like all Hollywood business ventures, The Ides of March concentrates its gaze on the obvious pretty people. I left the theater feeling I had gotten exactly what I’d expected, but wishing I’d seen a crazier movie, one where those twin Iagos, Giamatti and Seymour Hoffman, had done more than worry in the wings.

The Ides of March 88

Cast:

Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright

Director:

George Clooney Rating: R, for language

Running time:

101 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 10/07/2011

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