Most modern Hollywood movies about politics are even more ill-informed and cliché-ridden than the ones depicting the worlds of journalism, medicine or the military.
This is especially true of films portraying presidential candidates. Movies like Warren Beatty's Bulworth reflect the simplistic notions of politics that are revealed whenever stars-turned-activists are invited to the White House or make speeches at demonstrations. They also tend to be feeble as entertainment whether dramatic or comedic.
The Ides of March, however, is as well-made and effective a drama as you might expect from a film directed by George Clooney. Adapted from the play, Farragut North, by a former political activist named Beau Willimon, it even manages to get some things right about American political campaigns.
For instance, though it naturally pretties up the pasty types who really populate primary battles (not for nothing do they say that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people), it captures just how highly sexed the campaign trail can be.
That said, Clooney, who co-wrote the script, turns his character into a typical Hollywood fantasy Democratic candidate. Mike Morris is a tough idealist, part Clinton, part Obama, who has quick and easy answers to the problems caused by all the rednecks, cynics and Republicans, and could bring about a wonderful new era if elected. His character gets so much time on screen scoring points about the marvellousness of the UN or the wonders of cars that burn hydrogen rather than petrol, that it slows down and sometimes undermines the plot.
The latter is centred on the uneasy relationship between Stephen, Morris's idealistic but ambitious spokesman (Ryan Gosling, too gormless-looking and opaque for the part), and Morris's campaign manager, the experienced but paranoid Paul (played with his usual brilliance by Philip Seymour Hoffman)
There is also a dangerously attractive but unstable young intern who has wanted to sleep with Stephen for months (Evan Rachel Wood), a ruthless journalist (Marisa Tomei), a shifty black senator (the excellent Jeffrey Wright), and Paul Giamatti, doing his usual manic shtick as the seductive boss of a rival candidate's campaign.
Nothing that happens is all that shocking or unrealistic or unbelievable, except the behaviour of Gosling's central character. He is supposed to be a brilliant operative as well as a true believer in Morris's Obama-like cause. But he makes such obvious, elemental mistakes about people that it is hard to accept him as a good-hearted genius being corrupted by the terrible necessities of politics.