Clooney gives dirty politics an airing

Film
IDES OF MARCH
Cert: 15

Sex, ambition and betrayal are all part and parcel of the race to become the President of the United States. Or so it seems in the Ides of March. Whoever wins Ohio’s Democratic Primary reaches the White House, and Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) is relying on his press spokesman Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) and campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to do just that.

The aim may be simple, but the games behind the scenes are anything but. This is a good old-fashioned thriller. And thanks to Clooney’s back-to-basics direction and clean adaptation of Beau Willimon’s hit play Farragut North, no prior knowledge of American legislation is needed.

Ryan Gosling takes the lead as the intelligent but idealistic Meyers, drawn into the backstabbing world of party politics. While fighting for the candidate he believes in, Meyers is sucked into liaisons with both the rival campaign manager (a deeply unpleasant Paul Giamatti) and a beautiful young intern (Rachel Evan Wood), forcing him to risk his integrity for the all-important Ohio vote.

Gosling portrays Meyers’ political awakening with utter conviction, matched by the ever brilliant, chain-smoking Seymour Hoffman. As cracks start to show, the complexities of their relationship are crystal clear in every glance. It’s a film hinged on strong performances and clear direction.

We’ve seen the nasty side of presidential campaigns before (the Contender, Wag the Dog), so while the Ides of March is not a mind-blowingly controversial exposé of backroom politics, it’s been a while since it’s been done with such an outstanding array of talent behind and in front of the camera. It’s definitely not just for the politics nerds. Stevie Martin

Film
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN
Cert: PG

Steven SPIELBERG and Peter Jackson have poured £82m into this CGI reimagining of Hergé’s classic comic book adventures, but have they been successful? Well, the answer probably depends on how dearly you remember Tintin.

The cast is excellent: Jamie Bell (of Billy Elliot fame) plays the ginger-quiffed hero, Daniel Craig drools as the villainous Sakharine, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost bumble along as the Thompson twins and, best of all, Jackson’s partner-in-crime Andy Serkis provides a booze-soaked Captain Haddock. Thankfully, the 3D looks like it belongs and doesn’t impose itself like a hasty afterthought. The CGI is top quality too and has done its job in recording the actors’ expressions. However, while it’s technically brilliant, it doesn’t really look that special. This Tintin is neither simple and lovable like the comics, nor spectacular like something Pixar would make.

It is certainly quite real, strangely so in fact. Look at the backgrounds and the way people move – you could be watching live action, but these are cartoon characters – they still have the big noses, daft hair and primary-colour clothes Hergé drew them with. It’s a strange combination and it doesn’t look right.

In all, it is a very enjoyable family film and certainly worth seeing, but somehow, it just isn’t Tintin. Rob Goodway

Film
THE HELP
Cert: 12A

SET in 1960s Mississippi when racial tension was at its height, The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel, follows the struggles of Aibileen Clark, a black housekeeper, and her unlikely friendship with Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, a white, middle-class writer. Tate Taylor has adapted the story for the big screen and shrewdly casts cult newcomer Emma Stone (Easy A and Superbad) as Skeeter and Viola Davis as the downtrodden Clark. When Skeeter begins secretly writing a tell-all novel from the perspective of the black housekeepers beaten down by their white employees, the book turns into a more dangerous project than the pair could have imagined.

Scenes between Davis and Stone are well executed. It’s uncomfortable but compelling viewing; the casual racism throughout the film is dealt with sensitively as key moments from Mississippi’s murky history place the story firmly in context. But countless other stories vie for attention. Throw in a love interest, a revenge plot strangely involving chocolate pie, and hints at domestic violence; and the story becomes both distracting and under-developed.

There’s too much going on for anything to pack a punch. The Help tries to be a powerful drama. It tries to be a comedy. Unfortunately, despite some good moments, it falls just short of both. Stevie Martin