Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is the type of presidential candidate that inspires young voters and scares the snot out of stodgy traditionalists. He is a fresh thinker, filled with the kind of ideas that you can only get away with in the movies, and a man who refuses to participate in the shady backroom dealings that plague the political system. His campaign is run by Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an experienced campaigner who has put numerous candidates in their rightful positions over the years. But Morris draws much of his campaign strength from Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), an idealistic media whiz-kid who serves as second-in-command within the Morris campaign and will undoubtedly go on to an important post within the White House. Just as Stephen begins to think the presidential nomination is in the bag, everything begins to crash around him. A secret meeting with Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), who manages Morris’ opponent, reveals that Stephen’s polls are wrong and the race is far from over. He then discovers that Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), an intern with whom he has been cavorting, has a dark secret that threatens not only him but the campaign itself. With all of his hard work so close to coming to fruition, Stephen is forced to make decisions that go against his very nature and the beliefs on which the Morris campaign is built while attempting to stay one step ahead of the media and his political opponents.
The best thing that I can say about March is that it is a good film and a well-made one at that. As the writer and director, Clooney does an outstanding of painting an accurate picture of the political climate. Morris is an appealing candidate, the kind of guy you might truly consider worthy of a vote if he were not, in fact, a fictitious person. There is earnestness and a sense of realness to him which is exactly what he has to show in order to delve into the darker side of politics. The script isn’t great in the dialogue department (I move to make it a law that all political films must be written by Aaron Sorkin. Seconded?) but it succeeds in limiting the scope of the political sphere in which Stephens, Morris, and the rest operate; that is to say, it doesn’t bog the story down in all the detail that made your high school government class so painfully boring and thereby allows the audience to invest without having to remember too much about how this whole mess works. As someone who (as stated before) hates the political system and checks out at the words “delegate” and “lobbyist”, I appreciate this dedication to simplicity while remaining intelligent. All of the leading actors turn in good performances, though it would be a shock if any of them didn’t. March is mostly concerned with Gosling’s Stephen but the best moments belong to PSH and Giamatti, both of whom deliver with impassioned panache in their limited scenes. Shot selection, cinematography, and the dark contrast are all strengths and add to the overall “goodness” of the film.
What March isn’t is a great film. Clooney sets the table for a dramatic, genre changing (or at least defining) film and the trailers had me believing this would be an epic achievement. But in the end, there’s very little punch in March and not enough substance to fulfill its promise. The ground covered within the narrative is interesting but old; there’s nothing new or fresh about the twists and turns that take place and the final reveal(s) are simply not the powerful moments that I think they were designed to be. March simply isn’t special and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, I think it’s fair to expect more from a film that has this kind of pedigree. Whether fair or not, if you tell me Clooney will direct and co-star along with Gosling, PSH, and Giamatti, I’m going to immediately start thinking “Oscar” and March doesn’t quite reach that vaunted mark. If, however, you can go in with managed expectations, you will be rewarded with a solid, quality, good political thriller that will keep you engrossed even if you’ve seen the twists a hundred times before.
I’d totally vote Clooney for president,