Beware, Caesar, March 15th!

The Ides of March: adapted by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon from Willimon’s play Farragut North; directed by George Clooney; starring Ryan Gosling (Stephen Meyers), George Clooney (Governor Mike Morris), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Paul Zara), Paul Giamatti (Tom Duffy), Evan Rachel Wood (Molly Stearns), Marisa Tomei (Ida Horowicz), and Jeffrey Wright (Senator Thompson) (2011): I figure George Clooney can just pick up a telephone, call five randomly chosen actors, and sign them to whatever project he’s working on by the end of the day. Certainly The Ides of March has an All-Star cast. They’ve all got something to work with, too, in this smart political thriller.

To a Canadian born and raised in a parliamentary democracy, the Byzantine U.S. federal system will always possess a certain alien charm — and, frankly, a simmering alien horror. The Ides of March lays out the joys and horrors of this overly moneyed, often paradoxical system of democracy without ever seeming preachy or too laden with politicobabble.

Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, 30-year-old second-in-command of Governor Mike Morris’s campaign to win the Democratic primaries. We follow the campaign during a tumultuous week in Ohio, as deals and double-deals and betrayals and potentially career-ending events swirl in and around the campaign. The dialogue is mostly sharp, the performances lived-in and solid. No one here plays a dummy. And the actors are all up to playing smart.

Gosling shines in playing someone who’s both savvy and idealistic. Honouring the audience’s intelligence, the final scene leaves it to the viewer to decide how much that idealism has been shattered by the events of the film. It’s a quiet, subtle, Oscar-quality performance.

Indeed, there isn’t a weak performance in the movie. Clooney is utterly believeable as a charismatic candidate promising hope and change; Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti make for crafty and rumpled long-time backroom opponents; even Evan Rachel Wood nails her role as a pretty, connected intern who gets caught up in the undertow of dangerous political depths. Highly recommended.

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