Review: The Ides of March (15) ****

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There are several great moments in this exceptionally plausible political thriller from George Clooney, a director who wears his heart on his sleeve.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that The Ides of March deserves to be entered in the pantheon of classic political films. However it remains the kind of movie that Hollywood should do more often.

And in Clooney’s hands it emerges as a picture with heart, conscience and integrity. In fact integrity is at the heart of this story, a tale of that rare beast, an idealist in the dog-eat-dog world of American politics.

In actuality the story could be set anywhere at any time. The fact that it is a 21st century parable means that it will resonate with rather more people than normal.

Ryan Gosling is Stephen Meyers, the sharp-as-a-tack consultant tasked with steering popular US governor Mike Morris (Clooney in Clinton mode) towards the Democratic nomination for President. Directing him is Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a veteran party campaigner who demands loyalty above all.

Meyers is distracted by Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), a 20-year-old intern who seduces him with some fast and feisty sex talk, and Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), Zara’s opposite number working for Morris’s rival.

The scene is set for an upset of mammoth proportions as Meyers makes a series of decisions that might well affect Morris’s election hopes and Meyers’ career.

How it eventually happens should take most viewers by surprise. The Ides of March – the date of Caesar’s assassination is also the date of the primary central to Morris’s campaign – is a film laced with corruption, lies and deceit. Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov have crafted a movie that laments the lack of purity in politics, and which practically begs for another Kennedy-esque Camelot without the sex, lies, affairs and general duplicity.

It also hints strongly that idealists no longer have a place in modern politics and that principles are a laughable luxury no party realist can afford.

Clooney directs himself strongly and draws terrific performances from ever-reliable heavyweights like Hoffman and Giamatti.

Jeffrey Wright and Marisa Tomei also turn up for good measure, and Wood shines as the irritatingly bright youngster whose behaviour is a catalyst for disaster.

But it is Gosling who leads the film and who embarks on a journey from loyalty to revenge. He metamorphoses from hero to patsy and brilliantly conveys the conflict at the heart of a man who genuinely believes in the ability to Do The Right Thing.