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Political idealism tested in Ides of March

Strong cast campaigns hard in Clooney drama

The Ides of March

Opens Friday at Park Theatre and Scotiabank

Amidst the schoolyard squabbling of political parties south of the border, and in an atmosphere of acute political discontent, lands The Ides of March, a film directed by George Clooney.

A Shakespearean title is apt for just about any story set in Washington, but seems particularly fitting for this political drama, which is rooted in gossip, revenge, lust and the loss of innocence.

Adapted from Beau Willimons play Farragut North, the story hinges on the aspiration and earnestness of 30-year-old Steven Meyers (Ryan Gosling), a press secretary in the thick of a key primary in Ohio. His candidate, Governor Mike Morris (Clooney) seems certain to win the Democratic nomination against his opponent (Michael Mantell), which means that Stevens dream of a gig in D.C. is almost within reach.

Ambition aside, Steven still believes in the cause. You really have drunk the Kool-Aid, says Ida (Marisa Tomei), a journalist forever trying to sniff out which way the campaign winds are shifting. Accustomed to dealing with Stevens boss, crusty campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Ida finds Stevens naivete both amusing and dangerous.

Steven gets an offer to turn traitor from Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) who runs the opponents campaign. Mikes my friend, Steven reasons. Do you want to work for your friend or do you want to work for the president? asks Duffy. This comes hot on the heels of Stevens ill-conceived tumbles with Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), a veteran intern at the tender age of 19. Both decisions will get him into trouble.

Its suggested that the Dems had better learn to play dirty like the Republicans, and as the polls slip, Steven watches as his boss wrestles with whether or not to buy the votes of an influential senator (Jeffrey Wright). He also finds himself defending his job while trying to cover up an incendiary piece of this political puzzle.

The tension ramps up in the last hour, as we wait to see who will take the fall. Theres a reasonable amount of urgency to the political posturing, though some scenes overstate their point. You decide: is the image of Steven silhouetted and dwarfed against a stage-sized American flag powerful, ironic, or kitschy filmmaking? But in clever scene, a key conversation takes place in a van; though were not privy to it, its a powerful scene nonetheless.

Gosling excels in his role as a young man clinging to the cause because he knows that the alternative means he has to sell-out completely. When the dissolution of his idealism is complete, Gosling wears his disappointment like a man 10 years older.

The real fun comes from watching Giamatti and Hoffman share the same stage, and we wish director Clooney could have included more of it. The first face-off between these two veteran campaign managers is nearly wordless, but speaks volumes. Separately, these actors have the best scenes in the film.

The Ides of March is a story about Democrats but doesnt really play sides: theres more material here that shows liberals in a foolish light than pokes fun at the Republicans. Its a thinking persons film thats as much about the loss of innocence as it is about the inner workings of a campaign. Either way, its a welcome reward for months of summer blockbusters.