A political drama directed by George Clooney and starring the red-hot Ryan Gosling. The set-up is familiar: A smart, earnest politician (Clooney) who says all the right things and loves his beautiful wife. An idealistic staffer devoted to the ideals of the man who speaks the words he writes. Behind-the-scenes machinations, murky alliances, the constant danger of betrayal or bad poll numbers. Lots of sharp, fast dialogue by the self-aware politicians and their savvy worker bees. The film doesn’t break any new ground in our understanding of the political process–political campaigns are rough and dirty and not for the faint-hearted.
But the film does what it does well. As he showed with Good Night and Good Luck, Clooney directs with a deft, efficient hand, moving the story along in crisp scenes, never letting the talkiness work against the tension. He seems to be following in Clint Eastwood’s directorial footsteps and that’s a great thing. (See Unforgiven, Mystic River, and Gran Torino to name a few.)
The acting is uniformly terrific. Gosling turns in yet another focused, intense performance. He totally sells the crushing dilemma of the true believer trying to stay true in a constantly shifting moral landscape. (I disagreed with Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman when he said Gosling was miscast: “He doesn’t have the brainiac Ivy League glibness of a young political hustler.” Full review. He came across plenty brainy and Ivy League for the role, and the character wasn’t supposed to be glib, just hip.) Clooney is, as usual, flawless as the smooth, attractive politico with an all-too-human ugly streak. Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood all provide their usual fine support.
The film isn’t perfect. It’s one of those movies that feels great while you’re watching it but if you dwell too much on the specifics, it starts to make less sense. In the aftermath, some of the characters’ reactions and motivations don’t exactly track. But it’s still a solid entry in the dark-heart-of-politics dramas like The Candidate with Robert Redford and Rod Lurie’s The Contender.
4 out of 5 stars.