I finally figured out that “North Carolinian” is Clooney-code for “black.” Not black like Barack, but black like South Carolinian Jesse Jackson in 1988. But none of Clooney’s foulmouthed backstage operatives ever dare mention the word “black.” Clooney the producer could have cast Martin Lawrence or Tracy Morgan to make this plot point clearer, but that would have made the PBS Pledge Drive audience uncomfortable. Instead, Clooney hired Wright, the premiere black upper-crust stage actor of his generation, a St. Albans and Amherst graduate who seems like a stereotypical Republican Secretary of State. In fact, Wright portrayed Colin Powell in W.
Onstage, Ides would be a hot ticket to see the famous ensemble in person, but at the multiplex it’s just a movie with movie stars in it. Clooney’s script isn’t awful, but he should note that Brad Pitt didn’t insist on cowriting Moneyball.
The big problem with The Ides of March is that the main character isn’t Clooney’s candidate, but his stand-in during debate soundchecks, a blandly handsome young aide played by Ryan Gosling. I raved about Gosling in Blue Valentine and Drive, so when I first saw the promotional poster juxtaposing the left half of Clooney’s face with the right half of Gosling’s (Clooney has the more imposing jawline), I assumed George was passing the torch to his designated successor.
Robert Redford did this in directing Brad Pitt in the 1992 fly-fishing movie A River Runs Through It. Likewise, it’s common for corporate executives to choose protégés who resemble younger versions of themselves. It makes sense that a man’s genes encourage him to feel nepotistic toward younger men who look enough like him that they might be blood relations. Do you think Clooney remembers every sorority girl at Northern Kentucky U. in 1980?
Yet Clooney cast Gosling, who always seemed like the coolest kid in shop class, as the smartest political operative in America. How do we know he’s smart—because of his Billy Crudup-like diction or his Robert Downey Jr.-like velocity? Nah. We know he’s smart because every ten minutes another spinmeister tells him he’s smart. In a movie whose moral is “Trust no one,” that’s the only unquestioned verity.
Perhaps I’m just feeling conspiracy-deprived, but the whole production appeared more an elaborate plot by an aging box-office lion to ruin a young punk upstart’s career by entrapping him in a role crafted to leave audiences saying, “Eh, he’s no George Clooney.”
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