The Ides of March (15A) follows idealistic young political strategist Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) as he is fired in the kiln of an election to decide the next Democratic contender for the American presidency. Meyers’ man is Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), a squeaky-clean liberal who looks perfect for the White House, but the story — directed by Clooney — focuses on Meyers, who is head-hunted by the opposition’s strategist, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). The intrigue grows more complex when Meyers discovers a potentially ruinous secret about Morris, forcing him to make some very pragmatic decisions about what is best for himself, for America and democracy itself. The Ides of March bears more than a passing resemblance to Robert Redford’s The Candidate (1972), but the screenwriters (with Clooney among them) offer a human story to put flesh on the bones of the dancing skeletons. Meyers’ transformation from hopeful optimist to dead-eyed cynic is subtly handled by Gosling in a performance that stands out despite the quality of the ensemble cast, which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffery Wright, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei, alongside Clooney and Giamatti. The pace is slow but the tale is a gripping one with echoes of classical Greek tragedy, and Clooney is cheeky enough to include a nod to The Godfather to boot. This is a powerful, intelligent story of hubris and realpolitik, and the latest film to prove that George Clooney is rather more than just a pretty face.
SET in Mississippi in the 1960s, against the backdrop of Martin Luther King’s civil rights campaign, The Help (12A) stars Emma Stone as fledgling reporter Skeeter Phelan, a recent college graduate who returns home to her native Deep South with a burning ambition to reveal the sordid nature of the relationship between her erstwhile friends and their black domestic servants. Terrified that indiscreet revelations will cause them to lose their jobs, and very probably worse, the help initially refuse to help Skeeter, until a shocking racist incident pushes them over the edge. Excellent performances from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer leaven the worthiness of Tate Taylor’s story, which is adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, and the tales they recount to Skeeter are a powerful condemnation of the apartheid nature of their world. The story itself, however, is filtered through Skeeter’s perspective, which means it lacks tension.
The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (PG) is Steven Spielberg’s ‘performance-capture’ animated version of the classic comic strip hero created by Hergé, and the director’s latest homage to the B-movie adventure classics of the 1930s. The action is relentless right from the first few frames, when Tintin (Jamie Bell) buys a model ship called The Unicorn, only to discover that a number of interested parties want it too. Aided and abetted by the booze-sodden Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Tintin embarks on a globe-trotting expedition in search of a fabled lost treasure, pursued by the evil Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig). It’s all good clean fun, but the relentless nature of the action sequences means that there’s very little time to develop the characters. Stylish, fast-paced and littered with cinematic in-jokes, it’s an intriguing addition to Spielberg’s canon, but no masterpiece.
WHO really wrote Shakespeare’s plays? That’s the question at the heart of Roland Emmerich’s political thriller, Anonymous (12A), which is set in Elizabethan England and posits the dissolute Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) as the poet behind the Shakespearean oeuvre. The earl’s motive for writing his plays is to undermine the position of William Cecil (David Thewlis), the earl’s nemesis and the Queen’s (Vanessa Redgrave) trusted adviser. The historical detail is strong, and the central premise is a fascinating one. Ifans is unexpectedly subtle and affecting in what must rank as the performance of his career.