This review was originally published on Pol Culture.
George Clooney directed, co-produced, co-wrote, and co-stars in the politics melodrama The Ides of March. The setting of the story is a presidential campaign, and Clooney’s best move was to cast himself as the candidate. His charisma is firing on all cylinders, and he makes the candidate’s ability to inspire supporters effortlessly convincing. Clooney’s worst move was to put the tired script into production. The protagonist isn’t the candidate; it’s the campaign’s number-two operative (Ryan Gosling). The picture is about his transition from idealism to cynical ruthlessness. He and the other campaign officials are unconvincingly written. They seem far too rigid and earnest to function well in the mercurial environment of politics. The intrigues inside the campaign are uninspired and overly histrionic. Those involving the press, a rival campaign, and a valued potential endorsement never rise above the perfunctory. Clooney has assembled a first-rate cast. Besides himself and Gosling, it includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Ehle, and Jeffrey Wright. But the material doesn’t give them much of anything worth doing. Even the dialogue is flat. The directing is unimaginative. Clooney shoots the script as if he were making a play on location. There’s no attention paid to creating the urgent, chaotic atmosphere of a political campaign. The picture looks professionally made, but as an entertainment it just lays there.