Surely there can be few people by now who are unaware that politics is a scummy business. Nevertheless, this is the news that director George Clooney brings us in his carefully paced semi-thriller, ‘The Ides of March.’ As the title indicates, the movie is an examination of betrayal, on several levels. The stars–Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, and especially Ryan Gosling, the film’s central presence–are so good they almost make the picture work. But they’re let down in the end by the movie’s under-powered style–it’s almost too tastefully done–and by the facile implausibilities and familiar political tilt of the script (a collaboration by Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon, who wrote the play on which the film is based).
The story is set in wintry Ohio, during the final week of a Democratic presidential primary. Pennsylvania governor Mike Morris (Clooney) is in the lead, but one of his opponents is catching up. Morris’ campaign is being run by veteran political operative Paul Zara (Hoffman), capably assisted by hotshot up-and-comer Stephen Myers (Gosling).
The opposition mastermind is wily Tom Duffy (Giamatti). Both Duffy and Zara realize that their candidates will need the endorsement of a powerful senator named Thompson (Jeffrey Wright) in order to prevail. But in exchange for the hundreds of delegates he controls, Thompson wants major payback: a promise to be appointed secretary of state in the administration of whichever candidate will meet his demand.
Read the full review at Reason.com