March 18 2013 12:00 AM

George Clooney directs and co-stars in entertaining 'Ides of March,' but he gives the central role to Ryan Gosling

This is a great year to be Ryan Gosling.
The Canadian-born actor has had a rather phenomenal run of late, starting with the national release of "Blue Valentine" earlier this year, in which he and Michelle Williams gave bruisingly real performances as a seemingly doomed couple. A few months later, Gosling was wowing audiences with his knack for light comedy, playing a pick-up artist who turns out to have a heart in "Crazy, Stupid, Love." Gosling switched gears again weeks later to play the cryptic wheelman in the hypnotic thriller "Drive."
"The Ides of March" demonstrates he hasn't yet run out of new sides to show us. Although George Clooney directed and co-wrote the film and plays a Presidential candidate, he has given Gosling the meatiest role: "Ides" revolves around Stephen Meyers, a cool but always calculating press secretary who, in Gosling's smooth portrayal, carries himself as if he's the smartest person in the room, even if he's wise enough to realize that's not the case.
"Believe" proclaims the boldly colored, Obama-style posters of Meyers' candidate, Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney), although it's never exactly clear how much faith Meyers really has in the man he's trying to sell to the public. Maybe Meyers really has faith; perhaps he's merely looking out for number one. The crafty Gosling continually keeps us wondering.
"Stephen, are you still single?" Morris asks. "I'm married to the campaign, governor," Meyers replies. It sounds facetious and it might be, although Meyers is quick to shield Morris from a hard-driving reporter (Marisa Tomei) and he doesn't let a little thing like making love to intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) prevent him from watching Morris' performance in a televised town hall meeting.
Clooney is thoroughly persuasive as a charismatic but profoundly flawed crusader -- we're told Morris was decorated by George H.W. Bush for the first Gulf War and protested the second -- who knows how to get a crowd's attention. "The richest people in this country don't pay their fair share," Morris declares, "and when they are asked, they cry 'socialism' and they use phrases like 'redistribution of wealth.'" He'd certainly give John Boehner and Paul Ryan a few sleepless nights.
The title, naturally, echoes Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," and "Ides" has just as much political maneuvering and unexpected backstabbings. Stephen's loyalty and moral fiber will be tested by a political rival (the excellent Paul Giamatti) and questioned by his own boss, a seasoned campaign manager (terrific work from Philip Seymour Hoffman) who tells Meyers that he values trust over skill.
If the movie's supposed revelations about the potholes and pitfalls along the road to Washington aren't going to shake up anyone who follows the news, there's a considerable amount of smart fun to be had listening to the sometimes salty dialogue by Clooney and Grant Heslov and watching Gosling, Giamatti, Hoffman and company size each other up and cut each other down.