‘The Ides of March’ splits the vote with film critics
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The new George Clooney film ‘The Ides of March,’ which he directed, co-wrote and stars in, follows Ryan Gosling as an idealistic campaign aide who witnesses the dirty business of politics firsthand. The film sets out to be a provocative political thriller that holds a mirror up to the contemporary landscape, but does it make good on its campaign promise? For critics, the answer is yes and no.
The Times’ Kenneth Turan gives the film a mixed review. ‘The dialogue is smart and focused, and as a director Clooney has encouraged his cast to really tear into it,’ Turan says. However, ‘even though all the supporting elements of a superior film are here, the actual plot that everything is at the service of is disappointing. The texture of reality and the sheen of fine craft disguise this for a while, but not forever.’
In Slate, Dana Stevens, who cannot resist opening with ‘Beware ‘The Ides of March,’’ calls the film ‘static and lifeless, like a civics-class diorama.’ Stevens suggests that the film could have been a more effective allegory for the current political climate had it featured the Republican Party more; like ‘Farragut North,’ the play it’s based on, ‘Ides’ focuses on a Democratic primary. Stevens concludes, ‘’The Ides of March’ isn’t a dumb movie … but it’s nowhere near as smart as it could be, or as its director seems to think it is.’
Roger Ebert, of the Chicago Sun-Times, finds the screenplay ‘ingenious,’ although the film itself ‘really reveals no new information.’ Ebert also praises the performances, and one in particular: ‘The movie’s strength is in the acting, with Gosling once again playing a character with an insistent presence. In roles as different as this one and ‘Drive,’ he has a focus that sees through others and focuses on his character’s goals.’
For the LA Weekly’s Karina Longworth, ‘The Ides of March’ works better as a romantic coming-of-age tale than as an insightful appraisal of the times. Longworth writes, ‘Any nod to our real of-the-moment disillusionment dissolves into soapy plot contortions, with a sex scandal begetting backstabbing and blackmail, necessitating secret rendezvous in darkened stairwells and the kitchens of closed restaurants.’
In a review in the New York Times, A.O. Scott commends Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, playing dueling campaign managers. The film, Scott writes, ‘feels most alive and truest to its ostensible subject when these two soft-bellied, sharp-tongued schlubs do battle, with the angelic Stephen [Gosling’s character] in the middle.’ But, Scott says, ‘the film is missing both adrenaline and gravity.... It makes its points carefully and unimpeachably but does not bring much in the way of insight or risk.’
Unlike Scott, the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern is lukewarm on the film’s acting. ‘You’d think a film with talent to burn ... would provide some electrifying encounters at the very least,’ he writes. ‘No such luck. Words fly, some of them medium-witty, but lightning doesn’t strike.’ Morgenstern does echo Scott and other critics in his takeaway: ‘The problem is that the news the story brings may be perfectly accurate, but it isn’t particularly original, and it’s certainly not what we hunger for in these dispiriting, cynical times.’
In the case of ‘The Ides of March,’ it seems that truth is simply more compelling than fiction.
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-- Oliver Gettell