Shakespeare notwithstanding, nobody gets assassinated in “The Ides of March,” George Clooney’s smart thriller about a presidential candidate threatened by a sex scandal.
There is plenty of gloom and doom, however. Backroom deals, petty jealousies and broken promises are as plentiful as the stars in the cast, which includes Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei.
“The Ides of March” isn’t always plausible -- a Machiavellian plot by a rival campaign manager seems particularly far-fetched -- and some of the characters border on stereotypes. But Clooney (the director, co-writer and co-star) has pulled off a considerable feat, transforming Beau Willimon’s play “Farragut North” into a fast-paced, suspenseful film that bares the underbelly of U.S. politics.
Clooney plays Mike Morris, a liberal governor running for the Democratic nomination. Hoffman is his savvy campaign manager, Gosling his idealistic press secretary and Wood a pretty young intern. Giamatti runs the campaign of Morris’s main opponent, while Tomei is a brash New York Times reporter who gets tipped off about a secret meeting that could embarrass both sides.
The story takes place in March on the eve of the decisive Ohio primary, when strange bedfellows complicate the campaign. Morris’s press secretary has a fling with the intern and learns that she earlier slept with the governor and is now pregnant.
As the primary approaches, Gosling’s character must choose between his idealistic impulses and practical considerations. When he confronts Morris in a dark, empty bar, we get to see the candidate’s win-at-all-costs side.
Hoffman and Giamatti are standouts as the crafty campaign managers, and Gosling strikes the right tone as a man with divided loyalties. Clooney’s part is relatively small, but his smooth directing style makes “The Ides of March” an enjoyable diversion from our real, equally sordid presidential politics.
“The Ides of March,” from Columbia Pictures, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: ***
What if Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hadn’t died in that 1908 Bolivian shootout made famous in the Oscar-winning film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford?
That’s the premise of “Blackthorn,” a laconic Western that picks up with Butch (Sam Shepard) living peacefully in a Bolivian village in the 1920s under the alias James Blackthorn.
A homesick Butch decides to return to the U.S., but gets sidetracked by a young robber (Eduardo Noriega) who enlists him to track down $50,000 buried in a mine. They’re chased by a former Pinkerton detective (Stephen Rea) and a posse hired by the mine owners to get their money back.
The Sundance Kid is no longer around, yet we don’t learn his fate until a series of flashbacks let us know what really happened after that gunfight with Bolivian soldiers.
Filmed on location by Spanish director Mateo Gil, “Blackthorn” features gorgeous shots of Bolivia’s vast salt desert, pithy dialogue and an Eastwood-esque performance by Shepard.
“Blackthorn,” from Magnolia Pictures, opens tomorrow in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***
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(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)