Ryan Gosling should have brought more of his intimidatingly sexy Crazy Stupid Love mojo — as opposed to his dead-eyed Drive monotone — to this surprisingly flat political drama.
Gosling stars as campaign press spokesman Stephen Meyers, whose dutiful-drone diligence doesn’t correspond with what is described by another character as his chess-master political savvy. We first see him standing in for Democratic presidential contender Mike Morris (George Clooney) during a sound check before a primary debate, reciting passages from the candidate’s scripted remarks with no enthusiasm whatsoever. That doesn’t jibe with what we later are supposed to believe is his committed personal loyalty to Morris and his cause. Starting out looking bored, jaded and passionless doesn’t leave Meyers much room for disillusionment after a later betrayal.
Meyers is seduced by brazenly horny campaign worker Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), who inconveniently happens to be the daughter of the Democratic National Committee chairman. She also is a mere 20 years old, or perhaps even a teenager, depending on which of her claims is true. That’s not the only mystery about her — but considering that she’s the next best thing to an intern and candidate Morris is a politician, you probably can guess what else she’s hiding.
One problem with the movie is that Morris has no real-world credibility. It is impossible to believe that one of only two Democratic primary contenders left in the race by March is a far-left wish-fantasy idealist who says his religion is the US Constitution and vows to do away with internal combustion engines in 10 years. This liberal wet-dream wonder would have been bounced out of the race after Iowa, if not before.
Morris’ campaign manager is the rumpled, cynical and chain-smoking Paul Zara, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman with only slightly less surliness than his portrayal of Oakland A’s manager Art Howe in Moneyball. His counterpart working for a rival candidate is the deviously crafty Tom Duffy, played with just the right amount of underhanded guile by Paul Giamatti. Marisa Tomei is cynical reporter (are there any other kind?) Ida Horowicz, who has been covering politics long enough to warn a disbelieving Meyers that Morris will let him down sooner or later, and Jeffrey Wright is an oily and out-for-himself senator with enough convention delegates to be a kingmaker.
The regrettably titled The Ides of March is adapted from Beau Willimon’s even more unfortunately named stage play Farragut North, which refers to a Washington, DC, Metro station. Directed by Clooney, who also co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Grant Heslov, the movie never gets interesting (much less exciting) enough to become engaging. Even when things get soap-opera silly, such as when a character meets an extremely unlikely demise, things somehow remain as bland as a budget committee hearing.
Despite having an excellent cast, The Ides of March is betrayed by a sleepy story that’s as dull as a butter knife and timid direction that never goes for the gut. Et tu, Clooney?
[Rating: 2.5 stars]
The Ides of March has it’s theatrical release this Friday October 7, 2011