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Clooney And Gosling Take Toronto

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It's testosterone city, here in Toronto. As the city's giant annual film festival launches, it's shaping up as a showcase for a clutch of superb male thesps. Dominating screens during opening week are George Clooney and Ryan Gosling for a total of four films; while hard on their heels come Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender, channeling Freud and Jung in David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method."

Ides of March -- which stars both Clooney and Gosling and is directed by Clooney -- bowed for the press yesterday at the jewel-like TIFF Bell Lighbtbox, the theater complex that anchors Toronto's famed sprocket opera. Despite the portentous title, Ides is absurdly entertaining political drama -- two terms which don't usually inhabit the same sentence -- with whip-smart dialog and a liberal (both senses) dollop of topicality and gravitas.

Focusing on an idealistic young press secretary (Gosling), it follows the backroom machinations, trading of favors, and shifts in allegiance during a political campaign to position a Democratic governor resembling Howard Dean (Clooney) as his party's nomination for president. Essentially, Ides tackles that venerable theme of the corruption of an innocent, posing the question, is it possible to be a principled politician -- at least one who gets elected? I suspect in America today we already know the answer, but this skillful movie freshens the question. As a counterpoint to Gosling's idealist, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seyour Hoffman deliver wicked turns as more seasoned and cynical political operatives. Unfortunately the game of wits between these players becomes studio-slick with the intro of a melodramatic subplot involving Sexy Time between an intern (Evan Rachel Wood) and Gosling.

I have a few beefs with Ides. It's got all its liberal bona fides in order -- but at the same time it knocks down the already beleaguered Dems, painting them as pols who are as compromised as the Republicans. I mean, are the liberals the ones we need to be attacking? The sub-plot with the babe turns on a sexual indiscretion -- yet in the overheated climate of a political campaign, are such dalliances any surprise? Also, Clooney doesn't shoot sex scenes well (though Gosling alone is a sex scene in itself.) And finally, the cringe-worthy portrait of the intern -- which makes Monica and the rest look like Mary Poppins -- is one, I suspect, that only male screenwriters would concoct. That said, Ides should make great fodder for the chattering classes. And it certainly marks the emergence of delicious Ryan Gosling as a star.