|George Clooney has his hands full, both on screen and behind the scenes, with “Ides Of March,” a tense political drama for which he serves as star, director and co-writer.
Clooney plays a fictitious governor trying to lock up the Democratic nomination for a run at the U.S. presidency, juggling all the heady elements of a major modern-day political campaign—and trying to stay afloat against a toxic undertow of scandal, lies and compromised ideals.
The campaign may revolve around Clooney’s character, Mike Morris, but the movie’s storyline hinges on Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), Morris’ whiz-kid campaign strategist whose youthful, sure-footed tactics have helped narrow the primary down to the governor and only one other serious contender.
Gosling’s character suddenly finds himself in the middle of an increasingly tangled web set spinning by a one-night stand with an attractive young intern, and how he deals with it is at the heart of the movie’s smart, sharp take on the compromises, sacrifices and dirty tricks it takes to compete on such a high-stakes political playing field.
Clooney also surrounds his character with other grade-A performers at the top of their games, including Philip Seymour Hoffman as Myers’ boss, the campaign’s rumpled senior strategist, and Paul Giamatti, team leader for Gov. Morris’ rival. Marisa Tomei is a newspaper reporter chipping away to get to the inside story, and Evan Rachel Wood plays the intern whose bedroom eyes conceal (for a while, anyway) a secret that could derail the whole Morris train.
Clooney is one of Hollywood’s most left-leaning stars, and here’s he’s playing a charismatic Democrat with stridently liberal ideas, a supportive wife and oodles of charm—an amalgam of certain other real-life Dem qualities that have paved more than one road into the White House. But the movie itself has no party flag to wave or political axe to grind, just a terrific story of intrigue, blackmail and drive to do whatever it takes to win.
And Gov. Morris is no angel, and he’s certainly no lamb—he’s a lion who brings out the claws when he’s cornered.
This is one of those movies where the title is never mentioned, but the connection is clear. Historically, the Ides of March was when Julius Caesar met his death at the conspiratorial hands of Roman senators who betrayed him.
Nobody pulls a dagger here and plunges it into the gov’s toga, but there are other dangers on his campaign trail that put careers, and lives, on the line.
Don’t expect to come away from “The Ides of March” with a healthy new appreciation for the noble American electoral process. Instead, be prepared to “get down in the mud,” as one character puts it, for a provocative look at its dark, morally corrupted, caustically scarred undersides.