The Ides of March has a lot to live up to: Clooney is Democratic candidate Mike Morris, gearing up to become the Democratic presidential candidate.

The comparisons with Primary Colors are inevitable. Ides is also told from the perspective of idealistic campaign manager (here a chiseled Ryan Gosling, using his soulful blue eyes to good effect); its candidate is charismatic and idealistic; and if the hard-nosed wrangler is Philip Seymour Hoffman rather than Kathy Bates, that’s hardly a shortcoming.

It is directed by Clooney himself, whose mixed bag of directorial outings include the on-target commentary of Good Night and Good Luck (a must-see, if you haven’t, for it’s timely reminders of the duty to challenge fear-mongering and uphold civil rights at all costs).

Ides follows Gosling’s Stevie through the media intricacies of the campaign, giving Clooney’s Morris space to woo us with his policies and ethics.

As we’re warned by the hard-nosed journalist at the start (a nice change for Marisa Tomei), Morris can only break our hearts.

The surprise – and I think the point – is the predictable mundanity of his sin. Even idealistic Steven is prepared to ignore it if he can put his man in the White House; as the stakes rise, Steven remains preoccupied by his career and ultimately by the chance to see positive policies enacted.

Gosling’s blue eyes turn flinty-cold, a dead eyed stare capturing Steven’s fall into cynical powermongering and self-interest. Ultimately, Ides is about the ends justifying the means, and the ethical sacrifices we are prepared to make.

If the tension is a little uneven, this remains a glossy production with a decent script and solid central performances. It’s entirely too easy to buy into Clooney’s Morris, and the warring PR flacks played by PSH and Paul Giamatti. If the plot and fatal flaw feel a liitle thin, a little too simple, they ring horribly true.

Unlike Primary Colors (or even Charlie Wilson’s War), Ides never plays for laughs yet somehow stills short of the emotional punch each of those films packed. The film almost feels as if it would benefit from a slightly longer running time, but I can’t help but feel it will benefit from re-watching. Not one for those needing their faith in humanity or politics restored.

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