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Cinema Signal: Green light for an adult drama that has awards written all over it.
. "The Ides of March"

When you have actors at the top of their craft, a brilliantly dramatized screenplay with exactly the right amount of complexity and depth, and a director with style, humor and a golden ear for character and human fallibility, you get something like this... a film that is a minefield of awards and recognitions. I'm prepared to make book on that!

Although it has the look and feel of a political statement film, partisan politics plays almost no part in it. This is a story whose background is a battle between democratic foes in an Ohio presidential primary contest. The ethics and morality of the characters are the issue and, most of all, as it affects and revolves around 30-year old campaign press secretary, Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) as he helps pursue an election victory for Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). It tells how a scandal of rather epic proportions hits the already fever-pitch tension like a whiplash that distorts everything as the big day approaches.

Myers, a consummate political operative, is recognized by his candidate as a straight talker, in distinction to campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Moneyball") who is inclined to talk about flowers before the leaves have formed. Both men, it is clear, are equally devoted to securing a win for their affable and articulate governor.

And, then, when the poll numbers are giving them cause for optimism, though they are still highly untrustworthy, Myers receives a call from the enemy camp, in the form of Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti, "Win Win"), the veteran campaign manager for their competitor. After resisting the pull of curiosity and the pinch of pride that Duffy's invitation to talk secretly over a drink generates, Myers succumbs and takes the meet. In it he receives an invitation to jump ship and join the opposing campaign.

Though he declines, anyone who knows anything about how politics works will know that his decision to meet the enemy is a third rail should it get out. He will rue the hour he was so misguided and will suffer the consequences, which are dire.

So far, however, it's all politics. But another strain of seduction rears its lovely head in the form of beautiful Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), a young intern who admits to being twenty and has worked with Myers in a previous campaign. That former connection doesn't register on him, but she leaves no question about her attraction to him -- she's all but ready to jump the guy in the campaign office. And, while, certain cliches are about to rise here, they are kept to a minimum while the bed sheets are soon enjoyed by all (that includes us!).

Until... some rather relevant strings are revealed and then we've got a supersoap emotional context bringing the political connections to a boil.

What writers George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon are saying here is that so much of politics isn't what it appears to be in the media, and that there's a whole snake pit of corruption, lies, betrayals, promiscuity, falsehoods, misrepresentations, etc. that are the underlying part of the political fabric. Human behavior is what it is even in a world of so much glory and high-minded promises.

The story is based on Willimon's play, "Farragut North" and this pedigree shows in the rather knifecutting realism of the dialogue and baring of high-stakes betrayals throughout. Supporting this is Alexandre Desplat's superb tonal tensions, consistently fine cinematography by Phedon Papamichael and cinematic mastery on all counts.

Clooney nails a man whose deal in life is to hide the negative side of his character and hidden agenda behind a mask of idealism, conviction and utter competence. While that may sound terrible, it's no more than a revelation of what a politician needs to be and he seems like a good guy compared to what's usually available on the stump. He makes it clear, here, as he's done so many times in the past, why adult audiences with a taste for mature drama that is used to explore contemporary issues ("Up in the Air," "Michael Clayton") will flock to almost any film he takes on. The exception in recent times is "The Men Who Stare at Goats" in which he saw something a good many of us didn't.

Woods ("Thirteen,") "The Life Before Her Eyes")is nothing less than tops in a delicious portrayal of a vulnerable vixen who harbors within herself a ticking time bomb of prior activities. Turning confidence and perfection into fear and sorrow in what is a story-functional role, she pleasures us with her impressive package of thespianic gifts.

Marisa Tomei is fierce as the insider press contact who nips at Myers' heels for news but never gets quite as much as she wants. The role is used to provide the intimidation and threat of unwanted exposure that pumps up the level of desperation.

The man who holds us in fascination for his lead part in the dynamics of political drama is Gosling ("Lars and the Real Girl"), who is a study in being the last man in any room who can only be defeated by his own judgement in a sea of traps. He's in charge of the public image, gives the commands, controls the media and helps direct the army of interns. Gosling's balance of strength and weakness in a test of cold ambition, which leans him toward unforeseen tragedy, comprises the magnetic center of the piece and, in this, he's pitch perfect.

Awards, awards, everywhere.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Ryan Gosling as campaign press secretary Stephen Myers
Leading a booby-trapped story of tragedy and politics.

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