‘The Ides of March’ is a perfectly enjoyable political thriller, but what it isn’t is fresh, daring or in any way unique in its insights on the political system. It’s a story we’ve seen many times before: idealism in politics buckles under the pressures of winning at any cost.
To this film’s benefit, no character (with the possible exception of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s campaign manager) is sanctified; they’re all flawed and deeply compromised. Yet, these characters come across as sketches rather than full-bodied people, perhaps because we know so little about them, and the choices they make in the narrative are generally predictable.
As a result, the talents of a tremendous cast including George Clooney (who also directs), Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Paul Giamatti are largely wasted. Though their mere presence evokes a sense of confidence and comfort in the viewer, they aren’t given much to do except spout sermon-like monologues on loyalty, integrity and the grim realities of modern politics.
Clooney clearly emulates the like-minded brainy thrillers of the 70’s (All the President’s Men, The Parallax View). What he’s missing is the sense of danger, paranoia, adventure or discovery that those classics found in their similarly cerebral approach.
The film does have a gorgeous, clean and elegant look, but Alexandre Desplat’s score is largely superfluous, particularly in the film’s first half.
Perhaps the most effective element of ‘The Ides of March’ is the one that’s most noticeably absent – the people. In the game of politics, as in this film, they don’t matter.