After an unfortunate misstep with Leatherheads, George Clooney the director is back with a new movie that once again suggests he should be included in the discussion about the most talented filmmakers on the current scene. This, of course, in addition to also being a very good actor, unfairly handsome and seemingly an incredibly cool guy. Alright, George, we get it! You’re good at everything! Geez, don’t you just hate the guy? What’s that? You like him him a lot, actually? Yeah…me too. Damn Clooney and his charm.

Anyway, in this one Clooney co-stars as Governor Mike Morris, a first-time Democratic presidential candidate running on the sort of ultra-liberal platform that sounds good in movies, but would absolutely doom him in real life (yes to gay marriage and alternative energy, no to tax breaks for the rich…oh, and he also might be an atheist). His campaign’s second-in-command communications director, and the film’s main character, is young Stephen Meyers, played by Ryan Gosling. Although we quickly see that Meyers is already amazingly adept at the sort of shady maneuvering that is absolutely essential to survival in the world of politics, he is also very idealistic – supporting Morris not because he thinks it’s his best shot to get a job in the White House, but because he really does believe in what he stands for and truly thinks he will do good for the country. Well, that’s great and all, but as someone who supported Obama, I can safely say sometimes it turns out that sort of idealism isn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Sure enough, Meyers soons learns a fairly devastating secret about Morris, one that would without a doubt obliterate his presidential chances if made public. Meyers is forced to wrestle with this newfound knowledge of his hero at the same time that he is also being openly pursued for a job by the campaign of Morris’ main Democratic rival. To say anymore would be unfair, since the joy of the film is watching everything unfold (I was very glad I knew next to nothing about the story when I sat down and watched it). Suffice to say that one of the overall themes of the film appears to be how a life in politics can turn even the most idealistic person into a cold, calculating power-player. Not really an earth-shattering observation, I suppose, but still one that is especially meaningful right now, as we head into another sure-to-be-tiring presidential campaign season.

With a movie like The Ides of March in theaters, it’s clear that we have officially left the explosion-filled summer movie season behind and have entered into Oscar season. This is an adult drama, made to be enjoyed by an intelligent adult audience that doesn’t mind a slow-pace or lack of edgy style as long as the story and characters are compelling. Perhaps the only thing particularly shocking about it is that Morris is a Democrat. The Democratic party are often given a free pass in most Hollywood political films, and although the film DOES clearly suggest that Morris’ policies would be better for the public, it’s still nice to see a movie finally acknowledge that both sides of the aisle have their morally-questionable leaders. And that’s coming from someone who almost always does vote Democratic…but, c’mon, let’s not fool ourselves, right?

The Ides of March is adapted from a play by Beau Willimon (By Clooney, Grant Heslov and Willimon himself), and like most movies based on plays it is not trying to be flashy. It it, primarily, a showcase for its actors, and Clooney the director is wise to understand this and let scenes play out purely on the strength of powerful performances. Everyone is fantastic in this. I can’t think of another recent one-two punch in two leading roles so close to one another as impressive as what Gosling has delivered with both this and Drive. He’s no longer an actor on the rise – he’s here. Clooney is quite good as the charming presidential candidate, not surprising given that he seems to be professionally charming in real life. The two are surrounded by a number of excellent supporting performances, from Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood and – in smaller but still crucial roles – Jeffrey Wright and Marisa Tomei. If you like any of the actors I just mentioned (and who WOULDN’T like at least one of them?), then you probably owe it to yourself to check this one out and see them in top form.

The sleazy world of American politics is nothing new, and The Ides of March doesn’t break any new ground. But it is absolutely engaging while you watch it. It’s pretty much the perfect alternative if you want to go the theater right now but don’t really feel like watching Wolverine train robots to punch other robots.



This review was originally posted at Trevor Likes Movies on October 10th, 2011.