Clooney hits the campaign trail.
ANONYMOUS (12A, 130 mins) Director Roland Emmerich courts controversy with this historical drama penned by John Orloff, which suggests that William Shakespeare might not have been a literary genius after all. Narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi, the film unfolds during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave), who rules over her subjects with a firm hand despite plots to overthrow her. Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans) writes from an early age but tragedy in his youth forbids him from publicly airing his works at a time when many are convinced that the theatre is the crucible of the Devil. When the public mood changes, Edward asks friend Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) to let him use his name on his plays but Ben refuses. Instead, young actor William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) agrees to help Edward with his ruse, taking public credit for the plays. Fellow writer Christopher Marlowe (Trystan Gravelle) learns the truth.
The Ides Of March (15, 100 mins) Thriller/Drama/Romance. Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella. Director: George Clooney.
AWAY from the glitz of the red carpet, George Clooney has exploited his celebrity to prick consciences.
He delivered a rousing speech to the United Nations' Security Council, pleading for a resolution to the Darfur conflict, and made a documentary with his father on the subject.
Clooney was appointed a United Nations messenger of peace and more recently, he organised the celebrity-studded 2010 telethon to raise money for the survivors of the Haiti earthquake.
Behind the camera, his award-winning films have bared teeth at the political establishment, most notably in Good Night, And Good Luck, which charted the fierce war of words between crusading journalist Edward R Murrow and divisive Senator Joseph McCarthy.
The Oscar-winning film-maker takes more pot-shots at Capitol Hill in this expertly paced thriller which begs the question: if politics is such a dirty business, why do the men in expensive suits, who rake the muck, come out smelling of roses and we're left feeling grubby? Clooney gradually cranks up the tension as he depicts the Machiavellian plots of the men desperate to breach the upper echelons of power, who will ultimately sacrifice idealism and honour at the twin altars of ambition and greed.
Based on the stage play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, who co-wrote the screenplay with Clooney and Grant Heslov, The Ides Of March hits the campaign trail with high-flying Democrat presidential candidate Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), who has a knack for spouting the perfect sound bite with a winning smile.
Flanked by his campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and brilliant press secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), Morris seems destined for the White House.
However, an ill-advised dalliance with intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) leaves Morris's reputation hanging by a gossamer thread as New York Times journalist Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) and the other media vultures begin to circle.
Meanwhile, rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) looks for chinks in Morris's armour, knowing full well that everything hinges on securing the endorsement of influential Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright).
The Ides Of March is a hugely engrossing thriller that doesn't get too bogged down in the political process, concentrating more on the abrasive personalities responsible for getting a well-groomed mouthpiece into the Senate and hopefully on to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Clooney is charm personified and Hoffman and Giamatti are deliciously oily as rival puppet masters.
Once again it's Gosling who delivers the stand-out performance, transforming from a wide-eyed strategist, convinced that Morris is the man to affect lasting change, into an emotionally shattered husk.
The machinations of the final 20 minutes feel too neat and the dialogue doesn't drip with enough bile, but Clooney's film slickly and stylishly campaigns for our attention and largely gets our vote.
Above, Ryan Gosling and George Clooney, and Philip Seymour Hoffman