“As goes Ohio so goes the nation,” an unseen Rachel Maddow (the only person I trust to tell me about American politics) explains to her audience and lets us know of the importance of Ohio for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) who is fighting a tough Democratic primary against Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell) in the state. Morris an apparent ideal candidate, and a slick campaigner, long ago lost his idealism, the price of life in politics, echoes of Obama in 2008 (right down to the posters). The job of putting the Governor into the oval office is up to campaign manager Paul Zara (the ever reliable Philip Seymour Hoffman) and press secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling). In their way, at the moment, is strategist Tom Duffy (a calculating Paul Giamatti) who aims to lure Stephen over to Pullman’s campaign. In the midst of this is the temptation offered by sexy young intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood – Queen Sophie-Anne for all you True Blood fans) who may have bedded more than her fair share of campaigners.
Based on the 2008 play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, who worked on the 2004 presidential candidacy of Howard Dean, Clooney changed the title to allude to the warning given to Cesar by a Soothsayer who had foreseen his demise in Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar. A rather apt choice for a movie based on the lust for power, the corruption of one’s soul and loss of innocence. While these have become clichés in political dramas Clooney (as director and part of the team that wrote the screenplay) delves deeper into the matter through Stephen’s fall from grace much like in The Candidate which charted the corruption of Robert Redford’s Bill Mckay.
Gossling moves marvellously through the calm and collected big man on campus to the frantic and wild pariah feeding off Clooney’s chillingly perfect portrayal of a man who’s moved that line in the sand once too often. While the acting is exemplary and Clooney should be applauded for putting together a stellar cast the slow moving story may be a barrier for some but be warned that no scene is superfluous and with every minute he scratches the surface of his flawed characters to reveal the price of their souls. He is able to build momentum patiently and in one final swoop allows it to erupt when Stephen confronts Paul and the movie suddenly hits fifth gear.
Now confident in his ability George Clooney’s fourth outing as a director has yielded a subtle political thriller in The Ides of March. His minimal camera movements, little time on exposition and riveting storytelling is a delight but may leave some off-balance – so pay close attention you won’t regret it.