This film -- which was directed, co-written by, and stars George Clooney -- has received a lot of attention here in Cincinnati for being largely filmed in and around Cincinnati (as well as Northern Kentucky, though the end credits mention only Ohio and Michigan). Though based on a stage play, it's been well opened-up and the story proceeds from scene to scene with a sense of directorial gravity that the performances curiously never quite earn, which is strange considering this film attracted one of the most impressive casts of recent years: Ryan Gosling, Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella, to name just the cream off the top.
Part of the problem may be that we've seen similar stories before -- a Presidential candidate (Clooney), who sincerely says and stands for all the right things, is compromised by a single extramarital sexual encounter that makes him blackmailable and subject to the compromises that make the political world go 'round. The story gives us glimpses of all the characters (either humanly flawed, like Gosling's ambitious young political advisor, or flawed by brand, like Tomei's anything-for-a-scoop reporter) jockeying for position, but the game is so thick we don't get very close to any of them, which hobbles their stakes and obscures their motivations. (When one character commits suicide, we are presented with a choice of reasons why it may have happened, which takes the edge off the pivotal event in the picture.) It's a cast of public images and stereotypes and, even when their clothes come off for a brief respite from the rat race, they remain cloaked, culpable and held to a higher standard that pretends to exist to keep the game honorable. Which, this film needlessly points out, it isn't.
As a local, I commend the film for making excellent use of its locations; as a critic, I commend Mr. Clooney -- a fine actor and legitimate movie star, and a good director as well -- on his varied abilities but find this damning political drama on an almost remedial level after the intriguing complexities of an earlier triumph like MICHAEL CLAYTON.
Viewed on DirecTV on Demand.