Based on the 2008 play Farragut North, The Ides of March is a political thriller that explores the back-room dealings, manipulations and power plays of a Democratic Primary campaign in Ohio viewed through the eyes of an idealistic press spokesman. Along the way he finds his life complicated first by an illicit meeting with a rival, and subsequently by the discovery of a relationship that threatens to derail the entire campaign, before ultimately being faced with the decision of whether to compromise his own morals in an effort to ensure that his candidate is selected. The film marks George Clooney’s fifth as a director and the third for which he is credited as a writer, in this instance alongside his frequent collaborator Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, who wrote the play from which the movie is adapted.

Clooney has assembled a stellar cast for this film. Fresh from more mainstream fair such as Drive and Crazy, Stupid, Love, Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Meyers, the press secretary whose desire to bring around a political change he truly believes is for the better ultimately forces him to go to extreme lengths. Gosling turns in a wonderful performance here, bringing a likable quality to his character in the early parts of the film that is slowly, almost imperceptibly eroded as Meyers is drawn further and further into the shady machinations of modern politics, to the point that he is left almost unrecognisable by the story’s end.

In addition to directing and co-writing the film, Clooney casts himself as the charming governor Mike Morris who we discover isn’t quite as a clean cut as we’re initially led to believe. The character doesn’t feature in the play and was instead created specifically for the movie – a worthy addition to the story, and one which Clooney is perfectly suited for; with that famous smile and glint in his eyes that has melted many a heart the actor makes a convincing politician, and he handles the darker aspects of Morris’ character with similar aplomb. His interactions with Gosling’s character in particular are fascinating to watch, as they first work closely together to prepare for the primaries, and later as the relationship between the two begins to disintegrate.

For me, however, the finest performance in the film comes from Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays campaign manager Paul Zara, an experienced and loyal hand on the campaign trail. Hoffman’s character contrasts wonderfully with the role Gosling plays as Meyers throughout the film, initially coming across as a rather brusque figure before the audience is forced to view him in a more sympathetic light. The actor dominates every scene in which he appears, and leaves an indelible mark throughout.

Elsewhere, there are excellent performances from both Paul Giamatti as a rival campaign manager and Evan Rachel Ward as an enthusiastic young intern whose actions echo the Lewinsky scandal that rocked the White House in the mid-nineties. Ward brings an assertive quality to the character yet also imbues her with a certain charm that makes you genuinely feel for her as events begin to unravel. Also worthy of considerable praise is Marisa Tomei as Ida Horowicz, a New York Times journalist assigned to cover the primaries. Tomei is a wonderful actress who shines in every scene in which she appears; sadly, however, I felt her role in the film was all too brief and would have liked to have seen more of both her character and the relationship the press have with politicians and their staff.

For a film concerned with behind the scenes political power plays, I was pleasantly surprised to find moments of genuine humour scattered throughout The Ides of March, and its relatively short run time ensures that the film tells its story without ever outstaying its welcome. Clooney has succeeded in crafting a movie about politics that has appeal beyond only those with a keen interest in the subject. Rather than providing an in-depth exploration of the U.S. political circus, the film instead asks us to question how far we might go to see our hopes and dreams brought to fruition, and at what cost. It’s a compelling story performed by a cast of exceptional actors.