George Clooney's fourth directorial effort is a loose adaptation of Farragut North, a 2008 behind-the-political-campaign play by Beau Willimon, who once worked for Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, and Howard Dean. In the play, the Democratic presidential candidate was spoken of but never appeared on stage. In the film, he's played by Clooney and is an active, necessary participant in intrigue involving 30-year-old campaign advisor Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), his mentor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a competing candidate's top aid (Paul Giamatti), and a tempestuous, barely legal sexpot intern (Evan Rachel Wood). Ides of March is unmistakably a tale of romantic coming of age. A genuine idealist when we meet him, guilelessly evangelizing candidate Mike Morris's "Kool-Aid," Stephen is the center of a story about a heart fully heartening. Here, as in last month's Drive, Gosling's blankness contains multitudes. Compelling enough as a methodic moral inquiry, a step-by-step accounting of how lines in the sand move, Ides is less successful when attempting to capture the feeling of the times. Haunted by the crash of Obamamania (the takeaway image is of a dead-eyed Gosling surrounded by Clooney's face on Fairey-esque screen prints selling the slogan "Believe"), Ides is too melancholic to mount an actual political argument — it's more like public wound-licking. 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.
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