There is only one adult in the room in The Ides of March: Philip Seymour Hoffman as the campaign manager for a candidate in the Democratic Primary for president. The rest is sort of an MSNBC/Jersey Shore political cartoon. George Clooney's ego trip of superficial insights into politics from a Hollywood star who has been to a few conventions, appeared before a Congressional committee or two, and probably has had his ass kissed by prominent politicians dropping 'off the record nuggets' on the 'process.' More so after they heard he was doing a movie about campaign politics in hopes, no doubt, of convincing him to allow the use of his voice for robocalls.
For a while I was hopeful that the movie's plot would explain how Ryan Gosling wound up becoming a getaway driver in LA, but such hopes were dashed by the improbable twists of an improbable plot that relies on more small 'd' drama than the soap operas that gave Clooney his start.
And, one supposes, much of his inspiration for the non-political side of The Ides of March.
Sure, there are some political insights here, but nothing more than you'd find in an hour of Hardball. Indeed, Mr. Matthews and other commentators make appearances in the flesh or voice to add immediacy to the movie. Irony abounds in that most of what they do for real or in the movie has a sense of equally false drama: melodramatic truth as quasi fiction for ratings.
I, personally, get all my news from The Onion.
But, an air of reality hangs about the movie in the depiction of how frenetic campaigns are and how ugly political sausage making really is. The cynicism behind the speechifying, familiar since Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, is there. So are, the loss of political innocence, deal-making, lying with a smile, moral corruption. Yes it's all there, but, also, and ruinously, a Peyton Place moral center.
You know: fallen women and the men who made them fall. Virtue surrendered and its draconian penalties. Made 21st century-ish with shout-outs to Bill and Monica, who have become a useful cultural joke, boilerplate Republican stupidity, Democratic sensitivity, and secular righteousness about religion.
George plays Clooney and is never believable as governor, candidate, husband, or feet of clay-er. Paul Giamatti plays the opposing campaign manager and gives Mr. Hoffman a run for the acting chops money. Marisa Tomei is a powerful NYT reporter but, alas, breaks her magnificent string of consecutive movie appearances in the nude. Ryan Gosling, a modern Jack Burden (All the King's Men... the book, not the movie), wanders through the plot's labyrinth ruining the great impression he made on me in Drive. As an actor, he has implacable down. Nothing moves on his face except eyes and eyebrows. His mouth remains a perfect straight line throughout The Ides of March, not a sneer nor snarl disrupt its perfection.
It flatlines amid all the political Sturm und Drang.
Evan Rachel Wood is the anvil upon which the plot is pounded. She proves that the Republicans have already won by being unable to find a Planned Parenthood clinic in all of Cincinnati. She's a helpless waif, or a ravening harlot, or a clueless twenty-year-old with Daddy problems, or maybe the religious nutter rhythm method Catholic found, I guess, in all movies these days. What?!! There haven't been religious nutter rhythm methoders populating movies these days? What? Twenty-somethings don't use the rhythm method? What?!! Twenty-something women can be sexually active by choice and aren't fallen women? What?!! Twenty-something women know about abortions and ATMs?
By midpoint the movie became grating, not because of the politics espoused, its politics meander just enough to appeal to most. It's grating because at least three of the four cylinders of the engine that drives it make no sense. A secret meeting in a bar that wouldn't interest Michael Sneed, much less the New York Times, stumbles things off. Hot sex among the hyperkinetic young staff, checking Blackberries between thrust and response, is old hat these days and wouldn't raise an eyebrow. Same with sex by a candidate with anything other than a dead goose. Politicians sacrificing ideals for votes? Well, quelle surprise. By the end, the suicide of a sympathetic character to merely move the pawns around seemed extreme and just sad. Overkill. By then you didn't really care who would win the primary or why.
I once worked on a campaign for big stakes in a big state. The issues were compelling, the candidates clearly defined, the campaign workers living movie-esque high/low lives, the press cynical, devious, easily manipulated and aggressive, and the result the stuff that movies are made of.
Hey! Maybe I should write a script about it all: there was even a Bill Clinton appearance... in all his primal glory, so to speak.
I wonder if he would agree to play himself?