Ryan Gosling is something of a Rorschach blot for me; he makes an entirely different impression from film to film, skeevy-charming in Lars and the Real Girl, dopey and dense in Crazy, Stupid, Love, stonily heroic in Drive (where he brings to mind both Gary Cooper and that “axiom of the cinema” Charlton Heston), pathetic to the point of unwatchability in Blue Valentine. Good movies all — Drive is actually great — and I suppose good performances, but Gosling’s particular brand of method acting creates a hollow at their center.
The Ides of March, directed by George Clooney and adapted by Clooney and his frequent collaborator Grant Heslov from the play “Farragut North,” continues this trend, giving us Gosling as Stephen Meyers, a slick political operator working for Democrat governor Mike Morris (Clooney) in his bid for the presidential nomination. The story hinges on Meyers’s loss of innocence, a pivot from sincere belief in his candidate’s values and virtues to a cynical acceptance of the actual machinations of electoral campaigns. The movie channels the bleak paranoia of any number of 70s thrillers and satires, from All the President’s Men to The Candidate, but ultimately feels slight and underdeveloped; there are too few moving parts to the plot, and the series of betrayals and reversals are spottable well in advance.
The largest problem, though, is that Gosling’s character barely seems to change, even as the narrative describes his fall from grace. Is this because of an overly economical script that follows too closely the limited staging of its theatrical existence? The film’s portrayal of a political scandal that seems almost quaint compared to the hateful and incoherent hunger games being played out by the current crop of candidates for the Republican presidential ticket? Or is it because Gosling himself, as the apotheosis of a certain kind of absent acting style, registers from the start as someone who’s merely going through the motions?