As the endless barrage of Ryan Gosling interviews, subway posters and viral videos have no doubt informed you, 2011 is The Year of The Gos. The Oscar nominee, once famous for his lack of work -- he didn't appear onscreen for three years before the 2010 releases 'All Good Things' and 'Blue Valentine' -- will star in his third movie since the end of July when 'The Ides of March' opens on Friday. The George Clooney-directed political thriller focuses on Gosling's Stephen Myers, an idealistic young everyman who slowly starts to lose his moral compass during a presidential campaign. The film wants you to feel for Stephen as he drifts further and further away from his true self, a character arc that would be a whole lot easier to swallow if Stephen wasn't played by Ryan Gosling. To paraphrase 'Almost Famous': his looks have become a problem.
This is to take nothing away from Gosling's performance in 'The Ides of March'; he's as good as usual in the film, especially in the film's many dialogue-heavy showdowns with acting titans Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and George Clooney. It's just that watching Gosling in the early portions of 'Ides' feels a little like watching Anne Hathaway in the beginning of 'The Devil Wears Prada': she's supposed to be a frumpy mess, but there's no amount of frump that can hide Anne Hathaway. Stephen's supposed to be a boy scout; instead, he's Ryan Gosling, esq.
At the start of 'Ides of March,' Stephen is presented as a rising political star -- the type who doesn't have to resort to dirty tricks since his candidate (George Clooney in a wicked supporting turn) is the "perfect candidate." Stephen is good! He believes in the cause! He would never get into the mud with the elephants! Then he sleeps with an intern.
Judging from how the film handles later moral issues, the scene is likely meant to show the start of Stephen's fall from grace. Instead, it plays out like some deleted section of 'Crazy, Stupid, Love': Stephen and Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) meet-cute at the campaign office, have uncomfortably strong chemistry, grab a drink, and then seduce each other -- with 20-year-old Molly pulling out the final trump card when questioned on her age: "I'm old enough to f-ck a 30-year-old." And so she is. Because of the way Gosling plays Stephen, however -- and because Gosling could have chemistry with your mobile phone -- everything seems too slick and pre-ordained. It never feels like he's committing a foible or mistake of hubris, but rather a natural extension of Stephen's charm. He's almost shark-like in his precision. He's Gosling-y.
Which is what winds up hurting 'The Ides of March.' With his thousand-yard stare, designer clothes and $100 haircut, Stephen never acts like the type of person who could ever get the wool pulled over his eyes, even as the script works overtime to make that appear possible. It's an odd phenomenon: Gosling is very good in 'The Ides of March' and features in nearly every scene, but his mere presence winds up sabotaging a lot of what the film tries to accomplish. As an actor, he's become too sharp, too focused, too Gosling. 'Blue Valentine' was only last year, but it feels like a lifetime ago. With 'Crazy Stupid Love,' 'Drive' and 'The Ides of March,' Gosling has become a preening movie star. His actor-y skills have been pushed aside.
This is not to say hope for Gosling to become the best actor in a generation is lost. Both his director and co-star George Clooney and Brad Pitt went through similar movie-star portions of their careers before becoming dependable -- if super-famous and handsome -- character actors. It's just that for the foreseeable future, Gosling should probably avoid the 'Half Nelsons' of the world. The dude is a movie star. Too bad that's not what 'The Ides of March' needed.
[Photo: Getty Images]
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