The Ides of March: Ryan Gosling and George Clooney Make Political Sausage

George Clooney's fourth directorial effort is a loose adaptation of Farragut North, a 2008 behind-the-political-campaign play by Beau Willimon, who once worked for Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, and Howard Dean. In the play, the Democratic presidential candidate was spoken of but never appeared onstage. In the film, he's played by Clooney and is an active, necessary participant in intrigue involving 30-year-old campaign advisor Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), his mentor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a competing candidate's top aide (Paul Giamatti), and a tempestuous, barely legal sexpot intern (Evan Rachel Wood). Ides of March is unmistakably a tale of romantic coming-of-age. A genuine idealist when we meet him, happily, guilelessly evangelizing candidate Mike Morris' "Kool-Aid," Stephen's arc is over when his heart has fully hardened. Here, as in last month's Drive, Gosling's blankness contains multitudes. Compelling enough as a methodic moral inquiry, a step-by-step accounting of how lines in the sand move, Ides is less successful when attempting to capture the feeling of the times. Transparently haunted by the crash of Obamamania (the takeaway image is of a dead-eyed Gosling surrounded by Clooney's face on Fairey-esque screen prints selling the slogan "Believe"), Ides is too melancholic to mount an actual political argument—it's more like public wound-licking. Any nod to our real of-the-moment disillusionment dissolves into soapy plot contortions, with a sex scandal begetting backstabbing and blackmail, necessitating secret rendezvous in darkened stairwells and the kitchens of closed restaurants.

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