Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman says The Ides of March is George Clooney’s best film yet as director:
Actors who become directors tend to focus on performance at the expense of everything else. Clooney certainly brings out the best in his actors, but his driving trait as a filmmaker is that he knows what plays — he has an uncanny sense of how to uncork a scene and let it bubble and flow.
The movie is a grippingly dark and cynical drama of insider politics, set during the days leading up to an Ohio Democratic presidential primary. Ryan Gosling, proving that he can flirt with sleaze and still make you like him, stars as Stephen Meyers, the idealistic but also shrewdly opportunistic press secretary to Gov. Mike Morris (played by Clooney), a soulful and articulate Obama-in-2008-esque candidate who is promising a new kind of politics.
…Early on, there’s a moment that really makes you take notice: Marisa Tomei, as a New York Times reporter, tells Stephen and the governor’s campaign manager (a brilliantly addled Philip Seymour Hoffman) that there’s no way candidate Morris, with his hope-and-change rhetoric, could turn out to be anything but a disappointment. Hmmmm, we wonder…is this going to be the liberal Clooney’s comment on the disenchantment so many Obama supporters feel about the president they once thought of as a savior? Well, sort of. Except that since The Ides of March is about a single primary fight, the movie, while stuffed with political talk-show gabble, isn’t really about policy. It’s about backstabbing, media manipulation, and what campaign managers do when they’re not hatching plans in the war room.
The Ides of March serves up everything we’ve come to know about the dirty business of how campaigns are really run in this country. That may sound like boilerplate cynicism, but what’s new is that Clooney exposes how in our era the thorny process of politics has become the content, blotting out the meaning of policy the way an eclipse blots out the sun. The movie suggests that that’s what occurred in the Obama administration. But it also says a spirit of venomous aggression has entered our politics, one that (the film implies) Obama would do well to embrace more than he has. The Ides of March isn’t profound, but it sure is provocative. It’s a fable of moral urgency, a savvy lament, and a thriller of ideas that goes like a shot. A–