George Clooney has proved again and again how much of a bad ass he really is as an actor, director, producer and writer. The Ides of March may not be his strongest film, performance wise, but it’s a really damn good one as far as the rest of his production roles go. The direction is smooth and focused. The acting is impressive by almost everyone and the story is interesting enough to grab your attention for a few hours. It’s not the best political drama, but it’s a strong one thanks to Clooney’s instincts as a director and the excellent cast.

Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) is one of those clean staff members on a presidential campaign that believe in standing for what he thinks is right. He doesn’t participate in low ball deals or dirty politics like most in the field. He’s a very smart individual who is focused on the job of making Governor Mike Norris (George Clooney) the next president of the United States. He won’t take no for an answer and it’s this positive mindset that also causes much trouble for him.

Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is in charge of Norris’s campaign and Stephen works right alongside him. Paul is a bit old school as well, believing more in a man’s trust than his experience in the field. Loyalty is everything in their office and unfortunately for them loyalty is what causes most of the meltdowns in The Ides of March.

Paul and Stephen are a part of this well-oiled machine to help put Norris in the presidential office. Among the staff is also a young intern by the name of Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Woods). Molly appears to be just another intern upon first glance, but once Stephen takes a liking to her everything else sort of unfolds.

Playing on the opposite team is Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), an asshole of a character that balances the honest and loyal Paul just perfectly. To top off the ensemble cast is Ida (Marisa Tomei), a reporter for the Times and Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), a very important piece of the puzzle in securing some votes for either side.

The Ides of March sounds like a confusing movie due to all of these big and small characters that intertwine, but it actually plays out very straight forward. You have what appear to be good people and bad people, with a whole bunch of shady; middle of the road characters that can go either way. But what makes it all gel together so well is George Clooney. Clooney crafts a slow-burn political thriller that rewards its viewers with top notch performances by even the most smallest of characters.

Every single person is on the ball in The Ides of March. Gosling continues his hot streak, playing the opposite of his role in Drive. Instead of being cold and soft spoken he is now full of conversation and very motivated. Giamatti and Hoffman counteract very well. Giamatti plays a snake of a character who is constantly trying to throw someone under the bus no matter the cost. Winning is his game and he doesn’t have time to stop and make friends or allies. Hoffman is another focused winner, who is more worried about honestly winning then pulling out the bag of tricks, even though he is tempted.

Evan Rachel Wood is a less developed character, but one of the most important. Her character is the breaking point of the whole film, causing everything to tumble out of perfect orbit. Wood does great with what can otherwise be described as a simple sex interest. She brings the seduction perfectly with her looks and her intimidating approach. Molly is very much a little girl in a grown up world and Wood backs that up without hesitation.

The weakest actor on deck is probably one that should have been one of the strongest, George Clooney. I’m not sure if it was because he was more focused with his directing, writing and producing duties than acting, but Clooney’s Mike Norris started out strong and took a backseat for the majority of the film, only to come back for the climax of the film, which didn’t feel as strong because of Clooney. Maybe Clooney wanted the rest of the performances to shine or maybe he just didn’t have much for Morris to do? A minor complaint.

The story plays out in usual manner. It’s the transformation of an honest and rightfully motivated man to a man willing to do whatever it takes to win. Revenge is a sticky thing to handle in politics and The Ides of March executes it with strength. The film is full of twists and turns as more secrets become revealed, leading up the finale that leaves you walking out with an open mind. I like that The Ides of March had the time to interact with a whole set of characters and not just a few. While Gosling was the lead I think there really isn’t a pinpoint on whose next in the casting bill. Seymour Hoffman, Giamatti, Woods and Clooney all share the same amount of screen time, which is refreshing. I was a little bummed out with the lack of screen time or purpose Hoffman had in Moneyball and I’m glad Clooney realized what talent he had on board for display.

In the end The Ides of March is an engaging political thriller on an entry level, but it never fully captures the audience. It’s good in the sense that it won’t confuse people that don’t follow politics, but it never makes those same people too curious about politics. I like these types of movies to grab me and suck me into the world of dirty politics, making me leave the theater with an interest in politics. I’m not saying I want to go and study them afterwards or anything, but I’d like to think that there not as boring as I thought because of watching this film. The Ides of March doesn’t do that, but it keeps things going for the majority of its running time, with a few pit stops here and there.

Clooney handles the material well and really knows how to work the camera. Every shot is smooth and focused without ever letting up a moment of that tension that is slowly brewing. You really are guessing until the very end. Gosling is really making a name for himself with this and Drive and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Giamatti, Hoffman and Clooney all provide some good quality roles that we’ve come to expect and Woods shows that she can hang in there with the best of them. The Ides of March is a smart, focused and well-rounded film.

The Ides of March - 8.5/10