The Ides of March (Columbia Pictures, R)

It’s also a thoroughly good political thriller that both works on its own and makes an interesting comment on the current state of the union.

 

 

Like Natalie Portman earlier this year, it seems like Ryan Gosling’s in every movie released these days. As with Natalie Portman, I am fine with this; I think Ryan Gosling is one of our very finest young actors. Unlike with Natalie Portman, every movie Ryan Gosling has been in this season has been good.

His new one, The Ides of March, is the third film in just over two months to feature Gosling in a major role, and it’s the first of the three that seems like a likely contender for Oscar consideration; it comes from the team that brought us Good Night, and Good Luck. back in 2005: George Clooney as director, Clooney as supporting actor, Clooney and Grant Heslov as writers (this time also with Beau Willimon, who wrote the source play Farragut North). It’s also a thoroughly good political thriller that both works on its own and makes an interesting comment on the current state of the union. Clooney has long been known to be one of the particularly left-wing Hollywood stars (along with Matt Damon and Sean Penn), and for that I fear a lot of people will immediately dismiss this movie a la what happened with Green Zone last year, but political party is mostly handled as an afterthought in Ides—Republicans are basically ignored entirely, and Democrats are portrayed in something noticeably less than a positive light.

Really what we have here is a coming of age story set in the political realm; Gosling plays Stephen Myers, a young hotshot campaign press secretary for Clooney’s presidential candidate Mike Morris. Gosling’s smart, dedicated, young, good looking, the best person for his job, and in much demand; he also has total faith in Morris as a potential leader. The action here takes place at the pivotal Ohio Democratic Primary, and the way the story presents it whoever wins this primary will go on to become president with no further serious contests. I’m sure that setup sounds at least somewhat similar to recent events in the real world.

As previously mentioned I am a fan of Gosling’s, but to be frank this is one of the worst performances I’ve seen him in. Now, wait! Stay with me. This is speaking relatively—as an actor who has almost never in my memory hit a false note in his young career (even when he’s in subpar movies), there are at least a couple of scenes here where he is somewhat weak. Even so, his performance is by and large great and he is imminently watchable—maybe I’m just getting tired of him being typecast as a young hotshot, maybe Clooney didn’t do his best job directing his performance, maybe something else went wrong. Who knows. All I know is that if this is a bad performance for Gosling, that says a lot more about his other performances than it does about this one.

Besides, the rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, and it’s a doozy; Clooney’s at the top of his game as the charismatic Morris, and he is ably supported by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Paul Zara, his campaign manager. Matching Hoffman is Paul Giamatti as Tom Duffy, the other guy’s campaign manager; why did it take so long for someone to cast Giamatti and Hoffman in the same film together? They go together so nicely, particularly in an antagonistic relationship, as they have here. Rounding out the main cast is Evan Rachel Wood as Molly Stearns, a 20-year-old intern that catches Stephen’s eye. Wood is one of those people I have a weird mental block about—through no real fault of her own I have a really hard time taking her seriously. That was no issue at all here; this is easily her best-ever performance, in a small but crucial role.

So yeah, maybe Gosling isn’t as strong here as he was in Drive, or even Crazy, Stupid, Love., but this trio of fall films has only served to make me like him more. In my eyes he was glaringly overlooked for an Oscar nomination last year for Blue Valentine (though of course he grabbed one as an underdog back in 2006 for Half Nelson), but if he keeps up this level of productivity and quality it’ll be really hard for the Academy to get away with such an oversight in the future. | Pete Timmermann

 

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