Review in a Hurry: Hey look! Ryan Gosling is in another film this
week year, and he's brought a whole lotta Hollywood heavy-hitters along with him. Director/cowriter/costar George Clooney's political thriller focuses on a young and ambitious press secretary (Gosling), who discovers that—surprise!—there's a lot of shady deals and scandals on the campaign trail.
There's much to recommend, starting with the top level acting by Gosling, Clooney, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, but the obvious plot twists undermine what should be the film's greatest asset: smart guys trying to outsmart each other.
The Bigger Picture: Stephen Meyers (Gosling) gets a meeting he can't (but should!) refuse, when a rival campaign manager (Giamatti) just wants to "talk" about his running mate's chances versus Meyers' golden guy, Morris (über charming Clooney). Words are exchanged, offers are made but idealistic Meyers ain't gonna budge. But then a midnight rendezvous with a nubile intern (playful Evan Rachel Wood) turns into bad news for Meyers and perhaps Morris too.
The early scenes, where we see Meyers darting in and out of the campaign rooms clicks. Talking to journalists, like a New York Times reporter played by Marisa Tomei, are a highlight. There's an attraction to the whole spectacle of going behind the scenes of what appears to be a successful Democrat's bid to win Ohio. But things start to get muddled both in the script and in the politics. Turns out, the golden guy might not be perfect. While it's certainly commendable for Clooney and a host of other known liberal actors (like executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio) to portray a questionable Dem candidate, the way it's done feels dated.
Probably because it is. This is a project Clooney has wanted to make for ages and it feels more like something for the Clinton era, rather than Obama's.
What makes Ides a good popcorn thriller (but not a great one) is Meyers' descent into the ugliness of politics. Too often though, Gosling's character seems like a smart guy with his quick wit and sharp suits, but he's easily undone by what is pretty much standard in any daytime soap. Regardless, this has been a great year for Gosling. While he convinces, the part isn't as compelling as his roles in Crazy, Sexy, Love or Drive.
Directed by George Clooney, Ides is a tightly paced 100 minute ride. Less West Wing and more akin to Michael Clayton. Every move on the political chess board is heightened for dramatic effect. One of the best moments involves the deadening thud of a smart phone on vibrate that just keeps thudding. Then again, as effective this device is, the scene it takes place in—without spoiling—stretches the suspension of disbelief.
Also hard to believe, why so many secret meetings take place in shadowy stairwells or closed restaurants. Yeah, its feels very All The Presidents Men-like, almost to the point of parody.
The 180—a Second Opinion: So it's a rather standard political thriller but Clooney has cast it superbly. Every actor here gets a chance to shine, especially the supporting players. Seeing Hoffman tear Gosling a new one never gets old.
(Originally published Oct. 6, 2011, at 4:38 p.m. PT)