The Ides of March

 

Directed by George Clooney. Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright 15A cert, general release, 100 min

EVERYONE LIKES George Clooney. He’s a decent guy. He’s a proper movie star. One cannot, however, help wishing he were a slightly better film director. After the diverting Good Night, and Good Luckand the underpowered Leatherheads, Clooney now offers us a perfectly competent study of the US presidential primary circus.

The actors are all top-notch. Alexandre Desplat’s score swoons from lovely sub-Copland harmonies to sombre conspiratorial rumbles. The intriguing middle comes between the hopeful beginning and the bitter end. But there’s not much to set The Ides of Marchaside from the pilot for a quality HBO series.

Ryan Gosling stars as Stephen Meyers, policy wonk for a liberal Democrat candidate. Advising the handsome, articulate Mike Mills – who would surely be played by Clooney even if the great man weren’t directing – Stephen tempers genuine idealism with mild cynicism.

Mills is doing reasonably well in the Ohio primary, but, to achieve the ultimate triumph, he must win the endorsement of a self-important southern senator (Jeffrey Wright).

Then a curveball comes Stephen’s way. Their main rival’s consigliere(Paul Giamatti) invites him for a chat and offers him a job. Elsewhere a plucky young intern (Evan Rachel Wood) is marinating a revelation that could split the race wide open.

One impressive scene unhelpfully highlights the otherwise meat-and- potatoes quality of Clooney’s film-making: the camera blankly watches a man being fired in a car in much the same way Scorsese covered mafia assassinations for Good Fellas. Everything else reeks of opportunities only half grasped.

Giamatti faces up to Philip Seymour Hoffmann, his opposite number, but the two great character actors never quite charge at one another. Stephen’s eventual Faustian betrayal is lessened in impact because we are never quite sure of his initial idealism. The closed-in staging reflects the script’s origins in a play.

Most damagingly, while the eventual awful revelations might shock liberals who believe the absurdly sunny West Wingto be a documentary, anybody with a shard of cynicism in their heart will react with an unsurprised shrug.

Apparently even the Democrats deal from a marked deck on occasion. Jeez! Who knew?