Beware The Ides of March - not Clooney's best
Ryan Gosling and Philip Seymour Hoffman shine, but this political drama gets few votes
THE 2012 US presidential election is still in its infancy, but already the political intrigue is more exciting than it is in George Clooney's fourth directorial venture, The Ides of March, if we believe the critics.
The story follows press secretary Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) on the campaign trail for his idol Mike Morris (Clooney), the left-wing Democratic presidential hopeful.
Gosling, already in the critics' good books for his recent spine-tingling performance in Drive, is generally praised for his portrayal of the charming but ultimately naive Myers. Only The Daily Telegraph's Tim Robey suggests that he might be "too cool an operator to convince as an unquestioning disciple".
The best scenes, says Robey, are the "fatigued masterclasses" from the rival campaign managers, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Democrat) and Paul Giamatti (Republican).
A O Scott in The New York Times agrees. The film might otherwise lack "both adrenaline and gravity" but it feels "most alive and truest to its ostensible subject when these two soft-bellied, sharp-tongued schlubs do battle, with the angelic Stephen in the middle".
The film will inevitably draw comparisons with Aaron Sorkin's West Wing, the sharp-witted TV series about American politics, and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the 'Ides of March' - Latin for mid-March - being the day on which the Roman emperor was assassinated.
It is "slower, darker and more cynical" than West Wing, notes Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, and is probably "realer than Sorkin's fireworks".
But this is to its detriment, says Anthony Lane in the New Yorker, and "we badly need dialogue to ignite the film". Further, while Caeser's fate is set against a backdrop of "regular, unstarry folk... who could turn against him on a dime," The Ides of March forgoes obvious crowd scenes for pared-down headshots. "Extras are not an option," writes Lane. "Without them, there's no show."
Trade magazine Variety is also ambivalent. Justin Chang berates the film for treating "ho-hum insights like staggering revelations" resulting in a film which "seems far more taken with its own cynicism than most viewers will be".
Ides of March is released in the UK today.