George Clooney‘s previous directorial efforts have been erratic in quality. Good Night, and Good Luck won him critical plaudits whilst the more recent Leatherheads proved to be a mis-step on his resumé, disappointing audiences with its confusing pace and uneasy use of the screwball genre. Thankfully, The Ides of March is more akin to the former and is easily one of the better political films of recent years helping it to stand alongside Clooney’s acting output of last year with his tour-de-force performance in The Descendents.
The film follows Stephen Meyers, coolly played by Ryan Gosling, the junior campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate Mike Morris, played with the usual likeable charm of Clooney himself. Meyers’ supreme confidence is undermined by his naivety to the process and after casual meeting he has with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) – the campaign manager for Morris’s competition for the presidency – he gets him into serious trouble with his superior Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his future on Morris’s team suddenly seems in doubt. Alongside this, Meyers also manages to start a relationship with troubled intern Molly Steams (Evan Rachel Wood) from which he slowly starts to uncover a scandal involving a high member of his political party.
Clooney, on the most part, directs with the same keen eye that made Good Night, and Good Luck so powerfully atmospheric and obviously knows when to leave the film to the actors and the dialogue, racking up the tension and momentum. The film’s best and most engrossing scene occurs between two major characters in a heated and privately significant conversation late in the film in a restaurant’s closed kitchen. Watching the power shifts in the exchange is truly quite exhilarating to behold and the next scene showing the firing of another character in a car, unseen to us, is handled similarly well. It is perhaps a shame that the rest of the film is not handled quite as effectively and intelligently but on the whole it holds up.
Like Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney also manages to extract similarly strong performances from his cast, the only minor set-back being Marisa Tomei who appears slightly wasted in her role as a reporter threatening to reveal all about Meyers’s meeting with Duffy. Gosling is mostly in auto-pilot mode with his role which makes another good case alongside last year’s Drive for why he is one of his generation’s best current actors whilst Evan Rachel Wood is impressive in the almost femme-fatale role afforded to her, exuding both sexiness yet also deep vulnerability. Particularly good are Giamatti and Seymour Hoffman, who are on excellent form as each sides’ respective spin doctors, playing men who fully understand how the politics work and accept them, even when it may mean the end to their respective careers.
The script fails to really show us anything we haven’t seen before, both the politicians doing anything to win and the corruption of innocence due to this are cards often used. However, rarely in recent years has it been delivered as slickly or engagingly proving that Clooney is just as competent a director as he is actor.