Perhaps if Aaron Sorkin hadn't been so busy working on Moneyball, he could've lent some of his policy-wonk patter to The Ides of March. Directed by and starring George Clooney, the political drama chronicles the behind-the-scenes tactics and dirty tricks of a presidential campaign, but moves at a surprisingly leisurely pace. With his snappy dialogue and political savvy, Sorkin could've fit The Ides of March's story into a single "West Wing" episode with room left over for a witty rant about the superdelegate system.
Adapted from Farragut North, Beau Willimon's stage play loosely based on the 2004 Democratic presidential primaries, The Ides of March follows Stevie Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a media expert working for presidential aspirant Mike Morris (Clooney). The film depicts the hotly contested Ohio primary, with Morris and his closest competitor seeking the same crucial endorsement from a Democratic bigwig (Jeffrey Wright). Stevie genuinely believes in Morris' ideological message, but inadvertently instigates a minor political scandal and then uncovers a bigger one that could change the entire race.
The Ides of March, like Mike Nichols' far more entertaining Primary Colors and many other political movies, uses Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men as a template. Each of the works regards a powerhouse elected official from the perspective of a political insider whose moral struggle sets the terms of the narrative. While Gosling has a casual charm comparable to "ER"-era Clooney, Stevie comes across as a pure careerist, not a true believer. Not only does Stevie contain a hollow center, the overly straightforward plot lacks resonance with the political realities of the Great Recession.
As a director, Clooney draws lively performances from his cast, particularly Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman as rival campaign managers who work the system like chess grandmasters. The Ides of March's slick cinematography and self-important mood feel more appropriate to a candidate's TV spot than a reflection of the hectic, caffeinated pace of a presidential race.
Clooney's previous political drama Good Night, and Good Luck also moved at an unhurried clip, but the real historical context and Edward R. Murrow's stirring rhetoric gave the film gravity and urgency that The Ides of March lacks. The new film resembles the kind of candidate with superficial charms but no fire in the belly.