George Clooney's latest directorial effort, The Ides of March, fits rather snuggly into the mood of the 2012 election season. Working off a script based on Beau Willimon's 2008 play Farragut North, Clooney & Co. serve up dirty politics, a pitiless primary, a candidate of hope and change, plenty of liberal angst, and—as an apparent throwback to the '90s—an intern-centric sex scandal.
The political thriller embeds the viewer in the war room of Democrat Mike Morris' presidential campaign during the final days before the decisive open primary in Ohio. In the heat of televised debates and media interrogation, Morris (played by Clooney, seasoned and stoic as ever) doesn't give off the faintest scent of a character problem. Morris—think an amalgam of Gavin Newsom, Barack Obama, and John F. Kennedy Jr.—openly brands himself as an atheist, an unabashed lover of green jobs, a foreign policy dove, and a tough opponent of the death penalty. But in spite of his considerable charisma and grassroots pull, he's stuck in a dead heat for the nomination, up against the safer, more traditional Sen. Pullman.
At the center of all of this is the Morris campaign's wiz-kid media consultant, Stephen Myers (a pitch-perfect Ryan Gosling), a rising star in the Democratic Party and a savvy practitioner of the backroom ballet of scuzzy politics. But sometime during the election cycle, Myers passionately bought into the governor's rhetoric, sucking down the "delicious" Kool-Aid of the Morris camp. "I don't have to play dirty anymore," Myers proudly swears. "I got Morris!"
Aaaand…cue the playing dirty. (Spoilers follow.)
Channeling the dark reality of American politics, The Ides of March goes from idealism to opprobrium faster than you can spell "Yes We Can."
As Myers finds himself at the heart of a devastating scandal, his idealistic chimera caves in on him from every angle. Eventually, the hotshot strategist has to come to terms with the sad realization that Morris might be just as much of a cold, ruthless crook as the next electable candidate. Predictably, Myers starts rapidly swapping out his starry-eyed outlook and loyalty for career moves and personal vendettas. Gosling, who scored major indie points for his work in compelling, low-budget fare like The Believer and Blue Valentine, handles his character's moral degeneration with precision and a chilling, poker-faced drive.