There's a curiously old-fashioned air to George Clooney's latest feature, which opened the 68th Venice Film Festival yesterday.
The film begins with the campaign manager Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) testing the mics before a political debate featuring Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), a Democrat hopeful for the presidency. Meyers cynically races through Morris's speech. Clooney looks absolutely the part as a presidential hopeful, railing eloquently against religious bigotry and America's obsession with oil.
Early scenes, showing the hectic behind-the-scenes world of a Democratic campaign, rekindle memories of The War Room, the celebrated DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus documentary about Bill Clinton's campaign team. The bigger picture – the brave new America that Meyers hopes his candidate Morris will deliver – becomes ever more clouded as the dirty tricks kick in. What starts as a political drama moves into film noir territory. The look of the film darkens.
George Clooney has ruled himself out of a future role as U.S. president, citing Barack Obama's troubles as a reason to avoid the job.
Films don't hurt people. Clooney's latest fuelled the rumours that he could one day follow Reagan's path from Hollywood to the Oval Office.
He produced, directed and stars in The Ides of March, in which he plays a state governor running for the Democrat presidential nomination. Half the liberals I know want George Clooney to be President of the United States. For the sixth time in nine years, a Clooney picture is glamorizing the world's most venerable movie bash. One of the wrinkles in next year's Democratic primary season — if Obama runs uncontested — is that, for the first time in ages, no major candidate will be rolling out the fiery liberal rhetoric that is the Party's old-time religion. Raised Catholic but now proudly agnostic, Morris fervently — or since he is played by favorite-son Clooney, flintily — embraces abortion rights, the welfare state and the end of the internal combustion engine. Actually, that's not Morris speaking; it's his second in command, Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), joking as he sits in for the candidate during a sound check before a TV debate between Morris and Senator Pullman, his chief primary rival. The two campaigns are run by little fat men: Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for Morris, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) for Pullman. Stephen is different: 30, fit and a comer. As director, Clooney fills the screen with the harried milling of any campaign and amps up the verisimilitude with appearances by TV talking heads Rachel Maddow, Charlie Rose and Chris Matthews. Clooney sees blustering bustle and edgy familiarity — giant closeups of private conversations — as the contrasts of political campaigns, which are, at heart, all rhetoric and no accountability. Clooney wants to get across that any campaign is a compromise: persuading voters who don't agree on much to agree on voting for this one guy. And the candidate is, by job description, the compromiser-in-chief. The script by Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, from Willimon's play Farragut North, exists in the anachronistic world of traditional Democratic primaries as observed in Gore Vidal's The Best Man, Jeremy Larner's The Candidate and the Garry Trudeau-Robert Altman Tanner '88. That mannerism is on full display in The Ides of March, not just in Clooney's performance but in Gosling's as well. Clooney has it; Gosling's trying to learn it. With Clooney's connivance, and in a film stuffed with savvy work by veteran players, Gosling pulls the movie away from Morris and into Stephen's mind, where angels swim and demons lurk. That makes this skeptical, savory movie a fitting offering from Hollywood's suavest Ambassador to Venice and the world.