Sadly, neither the script, which is good, nor the ensemble of actors, who are terrific, is ever quite brilliant enough to cover our sense of déjà vu. The result is an entertaining movie that's more timely than timeless.
While the play's original structure has been re-shaped by Clooney and Willimon, the focus remains on Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), a young, golden-boy political advisor to Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), who ends up in treacherous political waters.
As in the play, Stephen must deal with such hard-bitten characters as Paul Zara, chief strategist for Morris' presidential campaign (played by a moistly doughy Philip Seymour Hoffman), Tom Duffy, a rival campaign manager (a Machiavellian Paul Giamatti), the nubile, not-so-innocent intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), and Ida Horowicz, an acid tongued, no-nonsense reporter from The New York Times (Marisa Tomei).
The most significant change to the film is that Morris never appeared in the play, but is a major presence on screen. Another new invention is Jeffrey Wright's cagey Senator Thompson, a pragmatist of the 'what's in it for me' school of politics with 240 votes to throw into the mix.
There's not a "good guy" in the bunch -- except for Stephen at the beginning -- and since, everyone already knows where nice guys finish, the thriller aspect of the political drama is a bit diluted.
Moreover, in an effort to draw both Democrats and Republicans to the box office, Clooney has made Morris an Obama-style Democrat with feet of clay; in fact, his campaign posters boast the single word "Believe" below a three-color-style photo reminiscent of Shepard Fairey's red white and blue "Hope" poster.
And since we're bombarded by the daily reality of dirty politics and the nefarious business of government -- watching politicians fall from grace is the nightly province of Jon Stewart -- the sad reality is that life isn't really all that different from art. As The Ides of March proves, making a truly classic political thriller in 2011 is a hard act to create, much less follow.
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