As awards season approaches and the presidential race heat up, “The Ides of March” has something for fans of both. Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, number two campaign manager to Mike Morris, (George Clooney) a presidential candidate fighting for his life in the Ohio primary. And if you know your Roman history, you know that someone’s going to get it from someone he trusts the most.
But something happens on the way to the big dance: Myers gets a call from Tom Duffy (an oily Paul Giamatti) campaign manager for the opposition. As played by Gosling, Myers is smart, young and ambitious — over confident and as egotistical as he needs to be to swim in a pool full of sharks. So he meets with Duffy, and Duffy offers him a job.
But this is not the biggest wrench in the Morris political machine. That would be Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) an intern who Myers is sleeping with (do interns do anything else in movies?)
With political fortunes hanging in the balance, loyalties are tested and tough decisions have to be made. To say more would be to give away too much, but truthfully plot is hardly the focus of “The Ides of March.”
Willimon, who wrote the play after working on the 2004 Howard Dean campaign, delivers dialogue that smacks of authenticity. His characters are multi-dimensional with clear motivations, but his plotting strains plausibility, particularly in the film’s climax.
Of course an all-star cast like the one in “The Ides of March” would help anybody’s writing, not that Willimon needs it. His text was dutifully translated to the big screen by frequent Clooney collaborator Grant Heslov.
Unfortunately, “The Ides of March” adds nothing new to the conversation. It shouldn’t be news to anyone that unbridled ambition thrives in the hearts of politicians or that corruption is a common tool.
For director George Clooney, his fourth outing is not in the same class as his Oscar-winning “Good Night, And Good Luck.” But Gosling is a diamond among gems, turning in an Oscar-caliber performance in one of the year’s best movies.