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Senior Correspondent

“The Ides of March”: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

Movie Review

The Ides of March (2011) Directed by George Clooney

George Clooney, viewed by many on the left as a white knight who really ought to run for office, sends an answer of sorts with “The Ides of March.”

In this political thriller — directed and co-written by Clooney — the charismatic movie star plays a charismatic state governor who has thrown himself into Ohio’s presidential primary in a bid for the Democratic nomination.

Watching Clooney’s Mike Morris gracefully glide through debates, press conferences and stump speeches is a bit weird…it’s like a preview of what a genuine Clooney candidacy would be like. Liberals will be swooning.

But this candy apple has a razor blade hidden inside.

As it turns out, “The Ides of March” (a reference, of course, to the assassination of Julius Caesar), isn’t about Morris, who plays a pivotal but relatively minor role.

The central character here is Morris’ assistant campaign manager, young Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling, again!), a true believer who sees in Morris the perfect Democratic candidate.

“They’re all politicians,” warns a cynical political reporter (Marisa Tomei). “He will let you down sooner or later.”

It’s a prophetic line, and before it’s all over “Ides” becomes the story of one man’s loss of faith. Remember how in the course of “The Godfather” Al Pacino’s Michael went from idealist to ruthless gang boss? That’s pretty much what happens to Stephen as he sinks ever deeper into the Machiavellian bog of big-league politics.

Clooney has packed his cast with fantastic actors. Philip Seymour Hoffman is Paul Zara, Stephen’s boss and an old hand at behind-the-scenes manipulation. Paul Giamatti plays his scheming counterpart in the entourage of Morris’ main political rival.

Jeffrey Wright is a pompous U.S. Senator whose endorsement everybody wants (he’s demanding nothing less than a cabinet seat for his support). Jennifer Ehle is Morris’ perfect political wife.

And then there’s Evan Rachel Wood as Molly, a 20-year-old intern on the Morris campaign who is jaded way beyond her years. Against his better judgment Stephen strikes up sexual relationship with the young woman (who for all intents and purposes is his employee), setting off a chain of unforeseen upheavals, including a matter of life and death.

This is a world were everyone is constantly on guard, where every word is parsed for hidden meanings and vetted for political correctness. Small wonder most politicians seem phony — they’ve got staffs devoted to pre-set scenarios and terrified at the thought of spontaneous expression.

Gosling adds yet another memorable performance to his growing resume. What makes it all the more remarkable is that Stephen isn’t a particularly colorful character, yet Gosling imbues him with a drive and an intelligence that puts us in his corner (at least until we no longer want to be in his corner).

Moreover, he holds his own against scene stealers like Hoffman and Giamatti.

As director, Clooney creates a smothering aura of ever-tightening tension coupled with a growing sense of moral revulsion. My one beef with the film is that for it to end the way it does, the police investigating an apparent suicide have to be as inept as those jokers in Perugia, Italy. The whole movie could come crashing down around a prescription pill bottle, had anyone the good sense to check where it came from.

Despite that reservation, “The Ides of March” joins such classics as “The Best Man” and “The Candidate” in mucking around in the ugly underbelly of American politics. Its overall attitude is less cynicism than a sobering sadness…the lesson here is that nobody gets out without some blood on their hands.

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