"The Ides of March" is a compelling, tension-filled political thriller with a superb cast.

George Clooney directs and stars in the movie, which is as up-to-date as your newspaper, radio, television or web site headlines.

"Ides" is a deeply-cynical look at presidential politics. Clooney plays Mike Morris, a fictional Pennsylvania governor seeking the Democrat party presidential nomination.

The movie's title refers to March 15, date of the Ohio presidential primary, and the date in 44 B.C. for the death of Julius Caesar, referred to in Shakespeare's play, "Julius Caesar," with "Beware the Ides of March."

"Ides" tells a fly-on-the-wall or in contemporary politics, texting on the cell phone insider's view of hardball national politics.

Ryan Gosling plays Stephen, an idealistic campaign strategist for Morris. Gosling's resolve is tested when he goes head to head with Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing Paul, Morris's campaign manager, and Paul Giamatti, playing the campaign manager of Morris's Democrat primary opponent.

Mixed it to the political stew is Evan Rachel Wood as Molly, a young Morris campaign worker whose role becomes more crucial to the storyline (we won't play spoiler here), and Marissa Tomei, as Ida, an experienced print journalist. Suffice it to say: Payback is a, er, brutal.

Adding to the believability are cameos by MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow and PBS's Charlie Rose.

Clooney directs in a no-nonsense style that still allows scenes and characters to breathe. "The Ides of March" is Clooney's "Citizen Kane" without all the grandstanding, posturing and hyper-active cinematic legerdemain.

Clooney cowrote the screenplay with Grant Heslov ("Good Night, and Good Luck") and Beau Willimon (based on his 2008 off-Broadway play, "Farragut North"). The screenplay has several memorable lines. Here's one describing politicians: "They're all nice guys ... who will let you down sooner or later."

The expletive-filled screenplay, while not too policy wonkish, presses most of the hot-button issues. Political devotees will especially enjoy the behind-the-scenes machinations. At its core is the question of loyalty, especially in big-league politics. "Loyalty is the only thing that counts," Stephen (Gosling) is told by Paul (Hoffman).

Alexandre Desplat's score adds tone and gravity to the drama.

"The Ides of March" is worth seeing for the focused performances alone. Look for an Oscar actor nomination for Gosling and supporting actor nomination for Giamatti and Hoffman.

Clooney provides another engaging, terse and intense performance. Gosling proves why he is one of his generation's most compelling actors. Hoffman, Giamatti and Tomei are always a treat.

Beware the Ides of March, but not this movie.

"The Ideas of March," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for pervasive language; Genre: Drama; Run time: 1 hour, 41 min.; Distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: "The Ides of March," which takes place in Ohio, was mostly filmed in Michigan.

Box Office, Oct. 7: "Real Steel," which stars Hugh Jackman and a boxing robot, pummeled the competition, opening at No. 1 with $27.3 million. "The Ides of March" opened way back at No. 2, with only $10.4 million.

3. "Dolphin Tale," $9.1 million, $49 million, three weeks; 4. "Moneyball," $7.5 million, $49.2 million, three weeks; 5. "50/50," $5.5 million, $17.3 million, two weeks; 6. "Courageous," $4.6 million, $15.8 million, two weeks; 7. "The Lion King," $4.5 million, $85.9 million, four weeks; 8. "Dream House," $4.5 million, $14.5 million, two weeks; 9. "What's Your Number?", $3 million, $10.3 million, two weeks; "Abduction," $2.9 million, $23.3million, three weeks

Unreel, Oct. 14:

"The Thing," R: An alien craft is discovered at an Antarctica research site. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton star in the science fiction film.

"Footloose," PG-13: The remake recycles the story from the original comedy-drama-musical about a town where rock 'n' roll and dancing have been banned.

"The Big Year," PG: Three bird watchers compete to spot the rarest birds in North America. Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin star in the comedy.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes