99 minutes

The taunting words of Sarah Palin ring in my ear at the end of George Clooney's look into the seedy underside of modern American electoral politics: "how's that hopey-changey thing working for ya?". It's a fairly logical comment to make, since Mr. Clooney's adaptation of Beau Willimon's stage play based on his own experience as a campaign aide is about the realisation of the massive gulf between idealism and pragmatism, and the role of political campaigners in ensuring that neither gets in the way of the victory they seek. As embodied by Ryan Gosling, America's finest young actor of the moment, wonderboy aide Stephen Meyers is in for a rude awakening as his faith in governor Mike Morris (Mr. Clooney, playing up a glint of steel under his suave facade), running for Democratic candidate to the American presidency, and his belief in politics as a road to change, is shaken to the core by the down-and-dirty reality. Meyers finds himself at the centre of a brewing storm involving his own inexperience, an eager young intern (Evan Rachel Wood), a veteran journalist (a tarty Marisa Tomei) and rival campaign directors (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti).

     Formally, The Ides of March brings nothing new to the table, either in Mr. Clooney's self-effacing, highly functional handling or in the script's by-the-book hitting of all the right narrative marks. What raises it into the hallowed tradition of Hollywood political films is, first, the sharp quality of the dialogue, expertly delivered by all concerned; then, the depth and intelligence of said cast, able to flesh out stock characters in only a handful of scenes; finally, Mr. Clooney's wisdom in letting the actors run the show and be there for them, realising that the film lives or dies by their performances not only individually but as a whole, down to his own performance as Morris, so downplayed and discrete you might not even remember he's in the cast. Still, this is very much Mr. Gosling's film through and through and he runs off with the movie with a stellar performance, more than holding his own in his big scenes with acknowledged powerhouses such as Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Giamatti.

     The Ides of March's sharply disappointed tone of world-weariness, clearly inherited from the work of classic liberal filmmakers such as Alan J. Pakula or Martin Ritt, comes up at just the right moment in these times of highly polarised partisan politics and general disillusionment with political affairs. That isn't enough to make it into a bona fide classic, but it definitely makes it an important, timely film.

Starring Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright; and Evan Rachel Wood.
     Directed by Mr. Clooney; produced by Grant Heslov, Mr. Clooney, Brian Oliver; screenplay by Mr. Clooney, Mr. Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on the stage play by Mr. Willimon, Farragut North; music by Alexandre Desplat; director of photography (colour by DeLuxe, Panavision widescreen), Phedon Papamichael; production designer, Sharon Seymour; costume designer, Louise Frogley; film editor, Stephen Mirrione.
     An Exclusive Media Group/Cross Creek Pictures presentation, in association with Crystal City Entertainment, of a Smokehouse/Appian Way production. (US distributor, Columbia Pictures. World sales, Exclusive Media Group.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), November 3rd 2011. 


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