By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire August 31, 2011 at 5:43AM
As the opening night film of the Venice Film Festival, George Clooney's "The Ides of March" made its debut tonight in Italy, kicking off two straight weeks of non-stop high profile premieres at Venice, Telluride and Toronto.
A star-studded political thriller starring Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei and Clooney himself, the film is an adaptation of the Beau Willimon off-Broadway play "Farragut North." It follows an idealistic staffer (Gosling) for a newbie presidential candidate (Clooney) who gets a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail.
Expectations were high for the film to be a major player in this year's Oscar race. However, doubts are already being placed on its potential as critics are generally calling the film solid but somewhat minor.
Here's highlights of five of the reviews so far:
The Playlist: Positive
It can also be a difficult world to make truly cinematic, but Clooney makes it work here, thanks undoubtedly to DP Phedon Papamichael (”Sideways”), who gives a real chill to the Midwestern landscapes, and makes effective use of some Gordon Willis-esque silhouettes—although it should be said that the director overplays his “let’s frame the characters in front of the American flag” a little in places. But it never feels small-scale, and fully embodies the addictive chaos of the campaign trail, something that keeps people like Stephen “married to the job,” and that’s certainly a victory for a film like this.
Variety: Mostly Negative
Emerging three years later amid widespread disillusionment, bitter partisan squabbles and still-crippling economic woes, "The Ides of March" would seem ideally suited to these embittered times, and it retains enough of Willimon's crafty plotting and wicked zingers to work as slick bigscreen entertainment. Yet by opening up the structure of Willimon's taut morality play -- whose spare genius lay in its applicability to any campaign, any party -- the screenwriters have attempted to make the text feel more specific and contemporary, but instead have inflated it into something implausible, toothless and weirdly dated.
The Hollywood Reporter: Mixed
Had writer/director George Clooney and his co-scripters Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon injected "The Ides of March" with the intimate political conviction that made Good Night, and Good Luck a critical standout and a frontrunner for liberal patrons, the exit polls would be more positive on this political thriller juggling idealism and corruption with fairly predictable results. Not just its softer narrative and dingy Midwestern setting but its structural lack of heroics is likely to keep the popular vote down on “Ides,” which can in any case bank on tense pacing and a superb cast, lead by a ruthlessly idealistic Ryan Gosling, to win festival votes beginning with its Venice bow.
The Guardian: Mixed
"The Ides of March" is tense and involving, a decent choice for the festival's opening-night film. And if that vote seems a little grudging, that's only because I can't help feeling that there were surely wilder, more interesting contenders that fell by the wayside. 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.
Time Out London: Mixed
"‘The Ides of March" is solid enough as a minor moral tale about politics – but its teeth are not as sharp as its ponderous title, overplayed final scene of co-star Ryan Gosling staring into a television camera or more flat noir-ish elements would all like to suggest. However, taken 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.