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Movie Review: 'The Ides of March'

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")

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")

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")

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")

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.