Directed by George Clooney (USA)
Set over the course of a crucial presidential primary in Ohio, this is designed as a political exposé in the back-room tradition of The Candidate or The Best Man, the kind where idealism is the victim and pragmatism the rule. Working both before and behind the camera, Clooney plays a Democrat with impeccable liberal credentials (hardly a stretch), but the bulk of the camera time goes to Ryan Gosling as his press secretary, prowling that back room in the company of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. The dialogue is smart, crisp and witty and, given the quorum of talent, it's not surprising that the performances are superb. What is surprising, and disappointing, is that the plot borrows, not once but twice, from the hoariest tropes in the book of smug clichés. The effect is to cheapen all the hard-earned realism. Contemporary American politics does a fine job of cheapening itself – the script doesn't need this melodramatic varnish.
Sept. 9, 9:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 10, 11 a.m., Elgin