3.5 stars; rated R
In the first few minutes of The Ides of March, we hear Governor Mike Morris, played compellingly by George Clooney, state publicly (and eloquently) that he is not a religious man. We hear him debate a same-sex marriage opponent fairly and directly. Whatever the subject, he answers clearly without quibbling. He presents himself so well that I could easily imagine someone with vastly different views voting for the guy because of his refreshing honesty. Oh, and there's also a low-key, evocative singer showcased in an early scene. He is Detroit singer Bob Mervak and, no, he doesn't have any recordings out yet. But I digress.
The Ides of March is a political thriller packed with wonderful acting. Clooney's Governor Morris, an aspiring presidential candidate, is actually a secondary character who remained offstage in Farragut North, the Beau Willimon play on which the film is based. Clooney also co-wrote (with Grant Heslov) and directed The Ides of March, which features a fine score by Alexandre Desplat.
The focus of the story is on Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), strategist for the campaign and right-hand man of campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Paul Giamatti is another key character, as is Evan Rachel Wood. Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright also appear, but they don't have much to do.
I loved the first hour of the movie. Everybody is so smart, the atmosphere is electric, it feels like we're getting a backstage look at the beginning of something important. Then the inevitable scandal happens and everything becomes depressingly typical. It's still well-presented - Clooney is good at creating an air of intimacy - but the whole movie seems to get smaller. Even with a juicy revelation near the end, it feels too ordinary for a film with such a promising beginning.