Dir. George Clooney
(2011, R, 101 min)

The Ides of March is a mostly effective political drama with something missing, and it was hard at first to put my finger on exactly what that is. Director George Clooney made a terrific directing debut in 2005 with Good Night, and Good Luck, another politically driven film, that one about Senator Joe McCarthy and his communist witch hunt. This film is not as taut; it’s intelligently written (Clooney wrote the screenplay with his Good Night collaborator Grant Heslov, along with Beau Willimon, based on Willimon’s play Farragut North), but scenes don’t build with quite enough tension or energy. The Social Network was another recent film that consisted mostly of people sitting in rooms talking, and by contrast this film shows how well David Fincher orchestrated his scenes.

But I think the bigger problem is a matter of its character arc. It stars Ryan Gosling as political consultant Stephen Meyers, who is working on the presidential campaign of Governor Mike Morris (Clooney). Stephen is a political whiz kid with media savvy, but he’s also an idealist. Morris will change people’s lives, he insists, while a friendly New York Times reporter (Marisa Tomei) warns that politicians will always let you down. Indeed, this is a story about disillusionment and how the pursuit of higher office quickly curdles idealism, but that turn happens too abruptly – an instantaneous about-face from sincerity to cynicism without enough character detail to make us truly believe it. It doesn’t feel organic; it feels contrived to prove a point.

It’s pacing and character development hold it back, but Ides is nevertheless a well-acted melodrama. Gosling is especially good; in his eyes he shows us the stark difference between Stephen’s perspective at the start of the film and at the end, especially in the sinister closing shot. What the film needs is a better middle to show us how he got there.