Movie Review: 'The Ides of March'

A political thriller, The Ides of March, opens Friday. That's one week before the ides of October — and a few months before the first presidential primaries.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

And finally this hour, what's new in movie theaters. A political thriller, "The Ides of March," opens today, one week before the ides of October and a few months before the first presidential primaries.

Our movie critic, Bob Mondello, says that's excellent timing.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Governor Mike Morris is a liberal Democratic candidate with a smooth movie star-ish glow. Think George Clooney, literally in this case, it's typecasting. And imagine him mulling over a position paper with his press secretary/media expert.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE IDES OF MARCH")

GEORGE CLOONEY: (as Governor Mike Morris) It says we're going to help him get an education and we're going to create national unity. We're going to teach young people a trade and we're going to get them out of debt for their college loans. Now, where does that fail?

RYAN GOSLING: (as Stephen Myers) Oh, that's exactly right, governor. It's just, if you're going to do it, do it. Make it mandatory, not voluntary.

MONDELLO: Since the title, "The Ides of March," comes from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," let's note that actor Ryan Gosling gives his press secretary character the lean and hungry look, the bar described to his chief manipulator. Gosling's Stephen has to do a lot of scheming to keep up with the sharks he swims with, including a calculating campaign manager played as a cross between Brutus and Mark Antony by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Marisa Tomei, who plays the rabble, otherwise known as the media.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE IDES OF MARCH")

MARISA TOMEI: (as Ida Horowicz) So you're certain you're going to win here?

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (as Paul Zara) Certain, no. Confident, yeah.

TOMEI: (as Ida Horowicz) You just said you'd win by nine.

HOFFMAN: (as Paul Zara) And I think that we will. Saint Gabriel can blow his horn on Election Day and get his four horsemen to rig the ballot boxes for Pullman and it wouldn't surprise me.

MONDELLO: Meanwhile, the rival campaign manager is spinning things in a different direction and because he's played by Paul Giamatti, you know he's dangerous. When Stephen talks briefly to him in a bar and the media finds out, things get complicated.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE IDES OF MARCH")

GOSLING: (as Tom Duffy) Did you admit to meeting with me?

(as Stephen Myers) No.

PAUL GIAMATTI: (as Tom Duffy) All right. Then we stonewall her and she's got nothing.

GOSLING: (as Stephen Myers) She's going to take this story to Drudge or to Roll Call.

GIAMATTI: (as Tom Duffy) She tried to blackmail me. You know, you're on a sinking ship, Steve. Tell her what she wants to know and jump. Come over to our side. We can control this thing.

MONDELLO: Or not. "The Ides of March" gets tied up in plot machinations when it should really stick with the thing that Clooney, who also directed, co-wrote and produced, does a lot more effectively. When he's illustrating the role of seduction in politics, this film crackles with the charge of a good love story, Gosling all but misting up in hero worship for his boss or being torn between a nurturing campaign manager and one who whispers sweet political nothings in his ear. Not to mention the pretty intern who comes on to him because - well, because power is seductive.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE IDES OF MARCH")

EVAN RACHEL WOOD: (as Molly Stearns) You're a big man on campus. I'm just a lowly intern. You get to stay at the Millennium, okay. They put us in a motel on the other side of the river. We do have a better bar, though.

GOSLING: (as Stephen Myers) I've heard that.

WOOD: (as Molly Stearns) You should come by one night, have a drink with the worker bees.

MONDELLO: All of this is in the service of a plot that seems hell-bent on telling us things we already know. "The Ides of March" ends up feeling less Shakespearian than film noirish, wearing its cynicism proudly and piling on the melodrama, but the fact that our political system tramples on idealism is not the freshest message at this point. And by the final fade, you're likely to feel that the film isn't as compelling as the performers, as they earnestly cry havoc and let slip the dogs of politics.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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