Wednesday, January 25, 2012


George Clooney’s latest directorial effort plunges its audience into a fierce battle for the Democratic presidential nomination during the lead up to the Ohio primary.  While Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) and his rival Senator Pullman (Michael Mantell) spar, Morris’ campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his right hand man Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) work behind the scenes to shore up the pledged delegates of sanctimonious South Carolina Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), which could all but sow up the nomination.  Though Meyers believes in and idealizes Morris’ policy goals, he’s a pragmatist in the mechanics of electoral politics.  At an off-the-record meeting with Pullman’s campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), Meyers is made to doubt the Morris/Thompson alliance and is offered a chance to switch teams.  The rising star demurs.  Meanwhile Meyers has been having a fling with young intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) but discovers that she had a carnal encounter with the Governor that left her in a predicament.  The script by Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on Willimon’s play “Farragut North”, works best when it focuses on election strategy and back door machinations.  There the writing and directing feel honest and on sure footing.  The film stumbles when it introduces the promiscuous intern and unfaithful politician storyline, which quickly devolves into credulity-straining melodrama.  Wood suffers for this, wasting her affecting work on a thinly written role.  Hoffman and Giamatti provide solid support but are shunted to the film’s edges, and Clooney seems curiously disengaged.  While Gosling’s natural charm serves his character well, the script tells us that Meyers is both a dreamer and shrewd political player.  Yet he is duped too often to be convincing as a savvy campaign manager, and he compromises his ideals too readily to make a believable idealist.  We have no clear idea of who Meyers is, which proves to be the film’s central problem.  And while that may be the point, it makes for an unsatisfying movie.

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