The first of fall's major Oscar contenders declared its candidacy in Venice Wednesday -- and if critics are voters, George Clooney's "The Ides of March" is polling pretty well but has a long campaign ahead of it.
The film, which is based on Beau Willimon's play "Farragut North," stars Ryan Gosling as a young campaign consultant who's swept into a murky world of lies, blackmail and moral compromise.
Clooney directed the film and also plays a presidential candidate (a character always offstage in the play). The cast also includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei.
Most of the early reviews from the Venice International Film Festival, where "The Ides of March" was the opening-night film, were positive but not rapturously so. "A smart, confident kick to what looks like … a notably strong Venice Film Festival," wrote David Gritten in the Telegraph. " … It engages the brain within the context of solid entertainment."
(Photo of Clooney in Venice by Frederic Nebinger/Getty Images)
Guy Lodge at In Contention called the film "crisp, diverting and typically (even overly) studious"; he gave the film three out of four stars, but the review seems less enthusiastic than the rating: "What we get … is an absorbing, occasionally witty liberal suit-opera on 'West Wing' lines that nonetheless holds its juiciest sub-plots on a leash."
Variety's Justin Chang, though, was far harsher: "Ho-hum insights into the corruption of American politics are treated like staggering revelations in 'The Ides of March.' Yet as it sneers at the inherent venality of politics and despairs over the gulf between stump-speech promises and meaningful political change, 'The Ides of March' wallows in its own superiority to the point where its cynical pose looks almost naïve."
In Time Out London, Dave Calhoun wrote, "[T]aken as a diverting aside on our world and with its more awkward pretensions forgiven, it’s captivating enough and well-performed by a strong cast, even down to the smaller ensemble roles."
At the Playlist, Oliver Lyttleton was measured in his praise: "This U.K.-based writer is admittedly something of a U.S. politics junkie … but we had a blast. Whether wider audiences enjoy it as much remains to be seen (although we’re fairly sure that it’s early anointment as an Oscar front-runner will disappear quickly), but it at least happily confirms that Clooney the director is here to stay."
Calling the film "a decent choice for the festival's opening-night film," the Guardian's Xan Brooks concluded, "What remains is your classic compromise candidate: a film that set out with a crusading zeal but had its rough edges planed down en route to the nomination."
In the year's first "Gurus of Gold" poll of Oscar-watchers at Movie City News, "The Ides of March" finished second in preseason predictions -- but that was before anybody had actually seen the film.