When you get right down to it, the problem (if you want to call it that) with the Ides of March is that George Clooney is merely an average director, instead of a great one. He’s no Kubrick or Fellini, someone who has so much artistic skill in them that they can elevate their subject to be greater than the sum of its parts. Despite having a good cast, nice cinematography and a entirely sound and riveting plot, the movie feels a bit unfinished. As if it’s missing something, an edge, something that would have made it truly great and iconic. As it stands now, the movie is only a decent to watch, an enjoyable experience, but in the long run, has nothing memorable to offer. It’s probably weakest movie Clooney has directed thus, far, though admittedly I have yet to see the Monuments Men, which seems to have had a bit of a mixed reception.
Both the strength and weakness of the movie lie in the realistic, low-key presentation. It doesn’t try to sensationalize politics, it merely presents it such as it is generally viewed as: dirty, everything is shades of gray instead of clearly black or white, compromise of one’s own ideals is the necessary evil to get anything truly done, political favors make the world go around, etc. There is no big mustache twirling villain because everyone is portrayed to have their own agenda, they’re selfish and flawed in their own special way, just doing their job, playing the game. They don’t take particular pleasure in their sleazy back stabbing, it’s just politics. This is in part why Ryan Gosling works so well as the lead character. Gosling’s reserved presence as a character and above all, his blind naïveté, make you able to put yourself as a viewer into his shoes, and empathize with his plight and struggle through the course of the movie as he gets tangled up in the dirty tactics of the game. Like Gosling, you desperately want to believe Clooney’s character represents exactly what America needs, but by the end, you have grown to be as jaded and opportunistic as any other political player in the story. You’re not even that surprised, not really. The cynic in you always knew it was too good to be true. Which is what makes the movie such a great allegory about how disillusioned we, the public, have become of politics. We like to pretend otherwise, but we don’t really believe anymore, we just don’t want to admit it.