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Video: Watch the 'Ides of March' trailer

By
Hollywood Reporter
updated 10/5/2011 12:59:01 PM ET 2011-10-05T16:59:01
REVIEW

Had writer/director George Clooney and his co-scripters Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon injected "The Ides of March" with the intimate political conviction that made "Good Night, and Good Luck" a critical standout and a frontrunner for liberal patrons, the exit polls would be more positive on this political thriller juggling idealism and corruption with fairly predictable results. Not just its softer narrative and dingy Midwestern setting but its structural lack of heroics is likely to keep the popular vote down on “Ides,” which features tense pacing and a superb cast, led by a ruthlessly idealistic Ryan Gosling.

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Based on the play "Farragut North" by Willimon, a writer who worked on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in Iowa, the story opens with an initial rush of insiders’ momentum. Then, from the excitement of being backstage at a presidential primary, the script steers away from American politics into the universal turf of the Hollywood thriller, where non-Democratic and international audiences are more likely to follow. The title itself is a clue to the Shakespearian aspirations of the filmmakers, who set the action and a number of dramatic, at times obviously contrived plot twists in a world of backhanded politics and manipulation where Cassius, Brutus and Julius Caesar would feel right at home.

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Perhaps the film is sufficiently in tune with the current American political climate of disillusion to find some bipartisan consensus. Pre-production on the $12 million movie was blocked in 2008 when Barack Obama won the presidential election because the film seemed too cynical for the optimistic mood of the day; a year later, it went back in production. Though few viewers will doubt what side of the political fence it’s on, the Democrats hardly emerge unscathed at the end of this behind-the-scenes trip through the cynicism, betrayal and double-dealing of a winner-take-all political campaign.

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As the curtain rises on the handsome, expressionless face of young campaign press secretary Stephen Meyers (Gosling), the two Democratic candidates are neck-to-neck in the crucial Ohio race. One is governor Mike Morris (Clooney), an astonishingly liberal thinker in the Obama mold, who fearlessly brushes aside his opponent’s religious challenge with a glib “my religion is the U.S. Constitution.” The suave Clooney is appealingly convincing as this purist Democrat who refuses to compromise his principles or, as Paul Giamatti’s rough-and-ready, rival campaign manager Tom Duffy puts it, “get down in the mud with the f-ing elephants.”

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In a few concise, well-written scenes, Stephen’s staunch idealism and dedication to the governor are firmly established, as well as his worth as a consummate professional and team player. He is a rising star in the office run by mastermind campaign manager Paul Zara, brought to life with tingling realism by Philip Seymour Hoffman. As weathered as Duffy but apparently less cynical, Paul actually follows a rulebook that allows no deviations. When Stephen lets the diabolical Duffy tempt him into a moral quandary about his job, all hell breaks loose.

Slideshow: George Clooney's life and roles (on this page)

Raising the stakes all around is another temptress, 20-year-old intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), who seduces Stephen in a smooth exchange in a darkly lit bar. As soon as the sultry blonde comes on the scene, the film shifts away from the hot, rapid-fire political exchanges that set the stage, and into a film noir mode which is not unpleasant, but certainly less than could have been hoped for by the film’s piquant and original first half. From here on in the story gets a lot more familiar.

Still the fine cast makes every line of dialogue count, like the memorable final exchange between Paul and Stephen outside a churchyard, as their lives take different paths. Jeffrey Wright’s brief appearance as an influential senator able to swing the election is an example of perfect straight-faced gravitas, while Marisa Tomei’s crafty Times reporter is delightfully smart and underhanded. Even Wood, for all her sexual incorrectness, evokes sympathy when she gets into major trouble.

Classy and professional throughout, the technical work gracefully holds all the threads together. Director of photography Phedon Papamichael works the cold, washed-out grays of Cincinnati into a quietly intense atmosphere piece, culminating in an electrifying nocturnal show-down between Stephen and Morris set, for no particular reason, in a restaurant kitchen. Alexandre Desplat’s evocative yet unprepossessing soundtrack follows suit.

Copyright 2012 The Hollywood Reporter

Photos: George Clooney

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  1. Center stage

    George Clooney accepts the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film on Nov. 9, 2013 at the BAFTA LA Jaguar Britannia Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Michael Buckner/bafta La / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Culturally sensitive

    In Clooney's upcoming film "The Monuments Men," which he co-wrote, produced, directed and stars in, he appears (with Matt Damon) as a member of an Allied platoon in WWII tasked with saving priceless artworks before they are destroyed by Nazis. (Claudette Barius / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Second best

    Fans of Clooney love to pose with his image, even if it isn't the real deal. Here, members of the public say "cheese" alongside a waxwork model of the actor in London on Feb. 13, 2013. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Lost in space

    In "Gravity," Clooney plays veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, who is stranded in space after debris strikes the space shuttle where he is working. (Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Picture / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Lady in red

    Sandra Bullock and Clooney stroll the red carpet together at the premiere of their new film "Gravity" on Aug. 28, 2013, which opened the Venice International Film Festival. (Ettore Ferrari / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Star power

    Clooney takes a boat to the Lido Beach at the 70th annual Venice International Film Festival on Aug. 27, 2013. He was there to promote his new film "Gravity," which was shown out of competition at the event. (Ettore Ferrari / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Three amigos

    On Feb. 24, 2013 Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and Clooney take home the most prestigious Academy Award, a Best Picture prize for "Argo." Affleck starred, directed and produced; Clooney and Heslov, who often collaborate on films, were also producers on the film. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Standing for a cause

    Clooney is arrested during a demonstration outside the Embassy of Sudan in Washington on March 16, 2012. United to End Genocide, the Enough Campaign and Amnesty International held a rally to call on the United States and world leaders to stop the violence in South Sudan and prevent hundreds of thousands of people from starving. Clooney and several others, including his father, were released hours later. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Testify!

    Clooney smiles as he testifies at the Senate Foreign Relations Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington on March 14, 2012. (Kris Connor / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Oscar nominee

    Clooney, a best actor nominee for his role in "The Descendants," and his girlfriend Stacy Keibler arrive at the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Calif., on Feb. 26, 2012. Clooney lost to "The Artist" star Jean Dujardin. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Another Golden night

    Clooney and Keibler pose with his award for best actor in a motion picture -- drama for "The Descendants," backstage at the 69th annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 15, 2012. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Critics love him

    Clooney accepts the best actor award for "The Descendants" onstage during the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at The Hollywood Palladium on Jan. 12, 2012. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Clooney for president!

    Clooney stars as a governor running for president in 2011's "Ides of March." Ryan Gosling plays his idealistic staffer who is quickly introduced to the dirty side of politics. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Men of the year

    Gosling and Clooney pose at "The Ides Of March" premiere on Sept. 27, 2011 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. In the director's chair

    Clooney doesn't just star in "Ides of March," he produced, co-wrote and directed the film. Here he reviews footage with co-stars Evan Rachel Wood and Gosling. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Name game

    Clooney signs autographs as he arrives at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of his film "The Descendants" on Sept. 10, 2011. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Backseat driver

    Clooney and Shailene Woodley are shown in a scene from the 2011 film "The Descendants," in which he plays a Hawaiian land baron. (New York Film Festival via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. That's life

    A tanned and happy Clooney arrives for the 68th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Supporting South Sudan

    Clooney attends voting ceremonies during the first day of voting for the independence referendum in the southern Sudanese city of Juba on Jan. 9, 2011. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Night of honors

    Clooney and then-girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis attend the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights' 2010 Ripple of Hope Awards dinner honoring Clooney, Robert Smith and Marc Spilker on Nov. 17, 2010 in New York. (Kimihiro Hoshino / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Talking to the president

    Clooney met with President Barack Obama to discuss issues involving Sudan on Oct. 12, 2010, in Washington. (Pete Souza / The White House via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Saving Sudan

    Clooney was joined by TODAY's Ann Curry on a South Sudan visit in Oct. 2010. The actor says the international community needs to step in. "If we get involved now, we have a shot," he tells TODAY. (Tim Freccia / The Enough Project) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Armed and dangerous

    With James Bond on hiatus due to MGM's money woes, can Clooney fill the bill as the suave action hero of filmdom? Clooney, shown with Thekla Reuten, stars as an assassin who finds himself in trouble in scenic Italy in 2010's "The American." (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Seeking justice

    Clooney leaves Milan's law courts after testifying against three individuals accused of fraudulently using his name to promote a fashion label at Palazzo di Giustizia on July 16, 2010 in Milan, Italy. The actor testified as a civil plaintiff during the trial against the individuals running fashion label GC Exclusive by George Clooney. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. He's our guy

    Clooney accepts the Guy of the Year award at Spike TV "Guy's Choice" awards in Culver City, Calif., on Saturday, June 5, 2010. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Lady in red

    Clooney and girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis attend the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theater on Sunday, March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, Calif. (Dan MacMedan / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. The Reitman stuff

    Clooney and director Jason Reitman attend a news conference for "Up In The Air" during Day 3 of the Rome Film Festival at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome on Saturday, October 17, 2009. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. When in Rome ...

    George Clooney and Italian actress Elisabetta Canalis walk the red carpet before a screening of the movie "Up in The Air" at the 4th edition of the Rome Film Festival, on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Looking 'Up'

    Clooney plays an unapologetic corporate downsizer whose untethered life is consumed by collecting air miles in the film "Up in The Air." (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Got their 'Goat'

    Clooney stars with Ewan McGregor in "The Men Who Stare at Goats," a film about a down-on-his-luck reporter (McGregor) who gets more than he bargains for when he meets a special forces agent (Clooney) who reveals the existence of a secret, psychic military unit whose goal is to use paranormal powers to end war as we know it. (Overture Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Compassionate visit

    Clooney meets residents as he tours earthquake damage on the sidelines of a G8 summit, in St. Eusanio, near L'Aquila, Italy, on Thursday, July 9, 2009. (Alessandra Tarantino / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. High-level access

    Clooney speaks to the media following a meeting with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington on Monday, Feb. 23, 2009. Clooney was urging the new administration to take action on the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Movie night with dad

    Clooney joins his father, veteran journalist Nick Clooney, for a screening of the film "Good Night, and Good Luck," and a journalism panel at the Newseum in Washington on Monday, Jan. 26, 2009. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. He's used to whistles

    Clooney and Renee Zellweger, stars of the film "Leatherheads," arrive at the Historic Salisbury Station in Salisbury, N.C, on March 26, 2008, on the third stop on a Whistle Stop Express tour to promote their film . (Peter Taylor / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. The usual laughs

    Clooney and Frances McDormand star in the 2008 Coen Brothers film "Burn After Reading" about two gym employees who try to blackmail a CIA agent over a computer disk containing his memoirs. (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Throwback

    Clooney is touted as "The Last Movie Star" on the cover of the March 3, 2008, issue of Time magazine. "He's a throwback to what movie stars used to be," friend Grant Heslov says in the article. "You see him and you think, Wouldn't that be a great life?" (Time) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. It's a snap

    Clooney directs and stars in "Leatherheads," a romantic comedy set in the world of 1920s football, where the owner of a professional team drafts a strait-laced college sensation, only to watch his new coach fall for his fiancée. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Boots on the ground

    Clooney, who has been designated as U.N. messenger of peace by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, visits the Zamzam refugee camp in North Darfur, Sudan, in late January 2008. (UNAMID via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. He comes in peace

    Clooney speaks at at news conference at United Nations headquarters in New York on Jan. 31, 2008, after being designated a messenger of peace. Clooney was joining eight other well-known individuals to campaign for U.N. causes. (Stephen Chernin / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Lucky 'Thirteen'

    In "Ocean's Thirteen," Danny Ocean (Clooney) rounds up the boys for a third heist and they're out for revenge after casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) cuts one of the original 11, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), out of a deal. (Warner Bros. Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
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