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DVD reviews: The Ides of March | Contagion

The Scotsman’s film critic Alistair Harkness casts his eye over the latest films to be released on DVD

The unintentional irony of The Ides of March, George Clooney’s fourth film as a director, is that it presents itself as a weighty treatise on politics but ends up chiming a little too closely with the too-good-to-be-true Democratic presidential candidate Clooney plays in the film: it looks handsome, sounds smart and says nothing of worth beyond vague platitudes.

Its message – that power corrupts and politics is a dirty business – isn’t any fresher simply because the characters getting their hands dirty happen to be Democrats, and nor is it any more daring because it sees a high-profile Hollywood liberal taking thinly veiled pops at disenchantment with Obama.

Basic storytelling flaws are the chief reason this otherwise well-acted drama flags. That’s too bad, because for its first half, this tale of a hotshot campaign strategist (Ryan Gosling) who becomes disillusioned with the guy he’s trying to get elected (Clooney) is thoroughly engrossing, particularly as he becomes involved in a tug-of-war for his skills between rival campaign managers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti).

Sadly, the moment a flirty and glamorous young intern (Evan Rachel Wood) enters the fray, the film starts falling apart in the most cliché-ridden way possible with sexual misdeeds and dead bodies cluttering up the more interesting political drama it could have been.

Steven Soderbergh has no such problems: he knew exactly what type of movie the viral thriller Contagion needed to be and serves up plenty of slick, sick chills as he traces the path of a deadly infectious disease around the globe.

Kicking off with a pallid looking Gwyneth Paltrow kicking the bucket (and having the skin peeled from her skull in a gleefully gruesome autopsy), the film wastes no time getting down to the business of showing how easily a deadly swine flu-esque virus could spread – or how quickly panic would set in, especially in an age where misinformation can take on viral-like properties courtesy of the internet.

Cutting effortlessly between multiple storylines, Soderbergh keeps things unpredictable by being as ruthless as the virus when it comes to culling his A-list cast: above-the-title billing and ownership of an Academy Award is no guarantee of survival come the end credits.

 

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