Hope and deranged: The Ides of March

In which sandpapery-voiced political consultant Steve Meyers (Ryan Gosling) realizes that the Democratic governor and candidate for president (George Clooney) is a louse, and, as a bonus, realizes that he’s a louse too. That’s all that’s at stake in what Tim Robbins’ louse of a Hollywood executive in The Player would classify as a cynical political thriller with a heart. The dialogue, written by director Clooney, Grant Heslow, and Beau Willimon, based on a play, is recognizable to anyone seduced by the chipper chihuahua excitement of Mark Halperin monologues on the cable talk shows, which I suppose adduces the film’s verisimilitude: it’s as shallow and “process”-driven as any “issue” hot enough to raise a tingle up Chris Matthews’ leg. Clooney as director errs in showing Clooney the actor’s point of view (e.g. the Sensitive Moment between the candidate and wife in the car); for this thing to work at all the candidate has to remain in the shadows, a smirking non-entity. At least Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, ladling irony like cold soup, offers a few rancid bon mots. I was especially offended by how Evan Rachel Wood exists to get seduced and abandoned for the sake of a gross and obvious plot twist in the sort of film for which the just as gross buzzword “homosocial” exists.

Clooney The Actor is the problem too — an example of a performer famous for what makes him least interesting. Called upon to express warmth, he’s merely self-absorbed; when he gives himself a blackguard moment he projects TV-actor malevolence. After Up in the Air, The Descendants, and this, Clooney better watch out: William Holden got trapped in the same place by the mid sixties. Would that he and Gosling have switched roles.

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