Directed by: George Clooney
Written by:George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright, Max Minghella, Jennifer Ehle
Released: November 24, 2011
Grade: A-

Featuring some of the sharpest dialogue of the year, The Ides Of March is an intelligent political drama that shines the spotlight on the ugly nature of politics.  For some, it’ll be an eye opener.  For the rest, it will reaffirm what they already think goes on “behind the scenes”.

Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) has his eyes on the Democratic nomination to become the next president of the United States.  He has a small army of support staff who are doing everything they can to raise funds, generate publicity and secure support.  Their eyes are currently focused on the key primary in Ohio where victory will almost certainly win Morris the nomination.

The two people pulling most of the strings are Morris’s two key campaign managers – Paul Zara (Hoffman) and Stephen Meyers (Gosling).  Paul is a seasoned veteran who’s been there before.  He knows who to trust and how to play the political game.  Stephen is a relative newcomer and he’s yet to shed his youthful optimism.  He has “drunk the Kool-Aid” and fervently believes that Morris is the perfect man to lead the United States into the future.

The screenplay’s focus is on Stephen’s character and we soon see his enthusiasm whittled away by a series of events.  He quickly realises that you often have to compromise your own beliefs and morals in pursuit of victory.

As an example, Governor Morris needs the public endorsement of a key senator (Wright) if he’s any chance of winning the Ohio primary.  However, the senator will only give his support if he’s promised the position of Secretary of State, a roll that most believe he is unsuitable for.  How far are they willing to budge?  Do the means justify the end?  Is it an inevitable part of the messy political process?

The Ides Of March features one of the strongest casts of the year and there are plenty of other characters I’m yet to mention.  Marisa Tomei plays a reporter for the New York Times who is being used to leak topical information.  Paul Giamatti is terrific as the campaign manager for a rival candidate and is looking to shift the momentum his way.

Evan Rachel Wood is also great as a young intern who becomes involved in a relationship with Stephen.  There’s a scene in a hotel bedroom that sums up Stephen in a nutshell.  The two are having sex but he still manages to keep a close eye on the television set in the corner to hear the day’s latest political news – emphasising his devotion to his work and showing where his heart truly lies.

George Clooney is the finest actor working in Hollywood today.  If you look at all the roles that he’s chosen over the past decade, he’s hardly put a foot wrong.  The same could be said of his efforts in the director’s chair.  The Ides Of March marks his fourth feature film (my favourite being Good Night, And Good Luck) and it again shows his ability to tell a compelling story and extract top-notch performances from his actors.

Whilst I loved the cracking dialogue, I admit that some the pieces from this tale fit together too neatly.  I can’t say much more given the film’s key twists (which shouldn’t be spoiled) but I had trouble believing the actions of certain characters.  It felt like these actions were designed to reinforce the film’s political messages rather than providing a more realistic portrayal of what may happen in the circumstances.

The film has struggled a little at the box-office in the United States which emphasises the difficulty in selling political dramas to the mainstream public.  On its debut weekend, it pulled in $15m as compared to Hugh Jackman’s Real Steel which managed $35m.  I guess most people go to the movies for some fun escapism rather than reliving the political stories they see in the news each day.

I’d like to think there’s room in this world for both kinds of films and I’d strongly urge you to hand over a $10 donation and support The Ides Of March.  It has my endorsement!