I have just endured for the second time this year a very problematic house move. Like last time I was unable to move into my new abode on the day I was supposed to due to an almighty cock-up but on this occasion I didn’t find out about the delay until I was in the estate agent’s office to pick up the keys. So after one week of crashing at my housemate Ryan’s sister’s house (thanks Carina and Mark) which is luckily very near our new pad we are now getting settled in and going through the lengthy process of lugging all of our worldly belongings by hand the better part of a mile from the aforementioned lifesaving dwelling. It’s been a busy month and no mistake but I still found time to head to the cinema with Ryan, Carina and Mark to catch this new political thriller starring Ryan Gosling and George Clooney.
Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is a young but gifted political campaign manager riding high as a key wheel on Governor Mike Morris’ (Clooney) campaign bus, playing second fiddle only to veteran Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as they do everything in their power to get their man elected as the Democrat’s presidential candidate. Things are looking good as they petition an influential Senator (Jeffrey Wright) for his endorsement; Morris seems like the kind of green-leaning champion of the people half the world would like to see become the world’s most powerful man and even his opponent’s campaign chief (Paul Giamatti) is expressing his envy of Morris’ asset in Meyers. But when Meyer’s reporter friend (Marisa Tomei) somehow picks up a sensitive leak and Meyers discovers campaign intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) is hiding an even more delicate secret it’s all he can do to keep the campaign and his job on the rails.
This is the first Clooney directed picture I’ve seen and I can conclude that the Silver Fox clearly has talent in the discipline which is lucky because he does more of that than acting in this one by a long way. Despite his character forming the central focus of almost every other characters’ efforts and attentions he spends very little time on screen. Instead this is Gosling’s film, the younger pretender taking centre stage in another important vehicle for his career and the good news as far as he and his fans are concerned is that he doesn’t disappoint. The same goes for the whole cast who deliver their dialogue snappily and with the necessary authenticity of a naturalistic production set in a complex world. Key scenes do not want for the sense of gravitas vital to make them work and the depth of insight into the campaign process is fascinating and credible.
But the film suffers from a couple of critical flaws that detract from what could have been a gripping and essential study of corruption and dirty dealing in a world dominated by rhetoric and spin. It’s to Gosling’s credit that his acting gets the stamp of approval because his character is extremely contradictory. Early on he gives an impassioned speech about how he will always strive for what he thinks is right but when his own success is threatened this mantra is disposed of with unbelievable ease. And for someone who has worked his way up to a very prominent position in politics Meyers seems incredibly naïve about how dirty a world it is. Then there’s the plot itself which stretches credibility. Something Meyers does early on is pitched as a serious no-no but seems like anything but a big deal in reality and an equally critical scandal lacks originality, borrowing very obviously from true events. But perhaps more than this the story lacks dimensions playing out as a narrowly focused account of one man’s fortunes when the wider context of the campaign’s progress is consistently more interesting.
The film gains some points for not portraying the Democrats in an entirely positive light but loses them again for its rather obvious Republican-bashing. Despite its flaws I never found it less than engaging (although Ryan said he struggled to maintain an interest) and the acting speaks for itself. The film is garnering some decent critical praise and it might even earn some academy nods but I sense it won’t go down in history as one of the great political thrillers.
Well played all round but missing a few ingredients to make it truly essential. Certainly worth a watch for Gosling’s good work but ultimately not the winning candidate.