You have to hand it to George Clooney. While many other actors with a Sexiest Man Alive credit to their names might be content to make formulaic rom-coms with minimum effort and maximum box-office pay-back, 50-year-old George is mostly interested in directing and starring in films that pack a political punch. The Ides of March is a case in point.

In this entertaining political thriller, George Clooney toplines as Mike Morris, a liberal Democratic Governor from Ohio hoping to clinch the Democratic ticket. He has the best spin doctors in the business, the hard-boiled Philip Seymour Hoffman and the young turk Ryan Gosling. Together they are confident they can lead their man to victory even if their Democratic rival has another wily bird, Paul Giamatti, on his books. Naturally, as the campaign unfolds, the tricks get dirtier, the moral ground shifts uneasily and skeletons start emerging from their closets. And that's when the fun starts.

This sort of scenario is meat and drink to good filmmakers and Clooney and his co-writer pal Grant Heslov are both smart enough to look back to those cracking political thrillers of yore, notably The Best Man (1964) and The Candidate (1972), for their inspiration. Clooney has a particular desire to tell this story since his father, Nick, unsuccessfully ran for the Congressional ticket in 2004 and was subsequently disillusioned with the whole electoral process, notably the need to court political patronage. George had originally hoped to release the film in 2008 but Obama's election lifted his nation's spirits so the time wasn't quite right for a cynical look at the political system. In 2011; the time is right.

In addition to making the most of a strong scenario, Clooney is smart enough to surround himself with some of the best scenery-chewers in the business, notably Gosling, who has had a superb year and will start 2012 as the hottest young actor in the business. A word, too, for young Evan Rachel Wood who manages to stand out in such exalted company.

If there is a flaw with the film, it's the fact that the labyrinthine plot twists in the first half of the movie are never fully followed through by the end, but that's a small price to pay for a cracking drama that is sure to resonate with Ireland's post Presidential electorate.

Vote for George and beware The Ides of March come Oscar night.

Michael Doherty