I suppose I can see why someone who pays very little attention to politics would get a good bit out of George Clooney’s The Ides of March. Me? I found it teetering on useless. Clooney, an outspoken political activist, has clear goals here. The first half of The Ides of March is, essentially, a reprisal of the 2008 Obama campaign and Democratic Primary. With Clooney as Barack Obama (Er, Mike Morris)! Ryan Gosling as David Plouffe (Stephen Meyers)! And Phillip Seymour Hoffman as David Axelrod (Paul Zara)! Morris, played passably by Clooney, is the effervescent Presidential candidate who’s going to revolutionize politics. He’s the real deal, an eloquent speaker attracting scores of young followers, including the laser-sharp Meyers, a grizzled-verteran-at-30 who, for the first time, has gone starry-eyed for the fresh-faced Morris’ promise. Zarra, meanwhile, is more cautious, yet cutthroat underneath this frumpy exterior. Sound familiar? It should to anyone who sat transfixed in 2008. Even the Morris campaign poster looks exactly like the infamous Obama “hope” image. As such, The Ides of March‘s opening half feels pretty lifeless, a rehash of a recent political phenomenon dressed up to seem more daring than it actually is. It’s closer to AMC’s hokey The Killing than anything else.
The second half shifts gears a bit. Now, Clooney turns to liberal, and overall, disenchantment with Obama, or on a grander scale, disappointment with how all politicians tend to break the hearts of those who love them most, though he encompasses this within other political themes and current events. In The Ides of March, it’s a sex scandal (something that we’ve seen plenty of recently) that threatens Meyers’ idealism and the campaign’s future, but it could just as easily have been the failure to come through on campaign promises. The cynicism of politics is omnipresent throughout The Ides of March, but without any fire. The only actor who really digs into his character is Paul Giamatti as Bill Duffy, Zarra’s rival campaign manager for the opposition. Everyone else trudges sleepily through the motions. The dark underbelly and brutality of this world has been portrayed millions of times, and Clooney fails to bring anything new to the table. If this specific story had been told before Obama’s rise to glory, it would have packed more of a punch. As it is, The Ides of March is dull as dishwasher.