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'Ides of March' all simmer, no boil

DAMASO REYES Special to the AmNews | 11/10/2011, 11:24 a.m.
Everyone disappoints us at some point. This seems so obvious that it doesn't make sense...
'Ides of March' all simmer, no boil

Everyone disappoints us at some point. This seems so obvious that it doesn't make sense how angry and sad we get when it inevitably happens. And happen it will. This is the central premise of the political not-quite thriller "The Ides of March," directed by and starring George Clooney, man-of-the-moment Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti.

It's the decisive contest of the Democratic presidential primary season and Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney) needs one more win to put him in the Oval Office, since the Republican field is so weak. Paul Zara (Hoffman) is his campaign manager and can barely hold things together. Stephan Myers (Gosling) is his media maven and hero worshiper who is smart enough to play the game but not smart enough to be played.

Both campaigns are angling for the endorsement of Sen. Thompson (another star turn by Jeffrey Wright) of Ohio who can deliver the delegates Morris needs to win. Young Myers gets himself pulled into some intrigue and double-dealing even as he is getting into an ill-advised relationship with, wait for it....the intern! Turns out he's not the only one she's been messing with and it threatens to derail the campaign.

The acting is great, the script is awesome, but somehow "The Ides of March" never gets up to a full boil. Part of it is that the characters make some plausibly human but pretty dumb mistakes. Everything that happens makes sense, but none of it comes off as dramatically as you feel it should. There are some great moments, like when campaign manager Zara gives Myers a heated speech about loyalty before bouncing him from the campaign.

However, this just gets us up to a simmer. Morris is there enough to make us understand how handsome and telegenic and honest and super awesome he is but not enough to really show us his weaknesses, so when they are revealed, they feel less than real and more like nifty and slightly predictable plot points.

The ending does redeem quite a bit, as Myers manages to turn the tables just in time to save his career, but in the process manages to dirty himself in a way that he himself predicted but also loathes. The most surprising thing about the movie is that these rough-and-tumble political types allow themselves to be disappointed by those they admire.