Sean Cordy’s review published on Letterboxd:
I remember coming out of the theater loving this, but that was when anything Gosling was great. Glad to report, it is still a very good film to me - just look at the cast!
Clooney, Gosling, the king and prince of charisma. Seymour Hoffman and Giamatti, two underrated yet astounding gems of our times. Tomei and Racel Wood, two rising, viscous actresses (though the former being quite older). And other supporting roles filling in nicely by the likes of Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Ehle, and Max Minghella from The Social Network. It's one thing to have a laundry list of A-list actors, it's another to make use of them correctly.
Now does Clooney (as the director) use every tool properly? No, I actually don't think he used himself properly in his role. Was he charming, gripping, emotional? Yes. But he just didn't really grasp his character (nor add as much to the story that revolves around his campaign for president). Good, yes, but overshadowed by the remarkable surrounding cast Clooney assembled.
I firmly believe Seymour Hoffman is one of the finest actors in Hollywood right now, and he really proved that here. He wholly understands not only the principles of his character, but of the film as a whole and the society it represents. It's a film of loyalty and choices, and that we all make our own [decisions]. We may not think we do things purely for ourselves, but as the mentor over Gosling, Hoffman shows that this system this broken society that Clooney's character is attempting to fix, is just a broken, narcissistic system - nothing is worth anything except for loyalty, and in a society without [loyalty], is anything worthwhile?
It's politics are clear, and sometimes they take over the film and seem like Clooney is just going to make a rant on the state of the union, creating a biased, Hollywood observation of government. Luckily, Clooney understands his role as a director more than he does an actor. Though not all of the praise can be put on his shoulders (that should go to the original playwright as well), it should to an extent.
Just as the campaign and the conflicts within it start climaxing, more personal revelations and tribulations arise. Clooney really builds off of the loyalty concept by making the whole film intimate.
The film is littered with lines regarding intimacy and loyalty.
"You single yet?" "I'm married to the campaign, Governor," replies Gosling.
He's married to the campaign, yet he looks elsewhere to the opposing campaign for closure and benefits. He's figuratively having an affair, and then when he starts seeing the intern (Wood), he's literally having an affair. He's just one of the characters that abandons his loyalty for his personal gain.
Clooney also has quite the eye for theatrics as well. He creates some great visual scenes with silhouettes and fantastic lighting. Not every moment, but many are very denotative of the film. There's a scene where the rain drops on the window look like Gosling's tears that is particularly striking.
He also throws out the typical tropes of political thrillers by adding in a wonderful modernized, techno (of sorts) score. It adds a great modern feel to it all and encapsulates the sense of a new order coming in the film. It's upbeat, but adds the ominous tones when need be.
It's a modern political thriller done right. It's not solely based on politics, but of the facade of American relationships and loyalty. The cast is remarkable across the board, and the screenplay is wonderfully written.