For a movie that takes its name from an event more than 2,000 years in the past, The Ides of March is remarkably relevant and crucial to the here and now.

It’s also a superbly-acted and for-the-most-part terrifically engaging cautionary tale that’s sure to (alas) have no effect whatsoever on the current political climate.

Sure, it’d be nice to think that politicians would see all the blackmailing, betrayal, and unethical machinations in The Ides of March and decide that it’s time to turn things around for the better… but don’t count on it.

Instead, it will just have to suffice as being a really good movie.

Ryan Gosling is Steven, the press secretary for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney, who also served as director, producer, and co-writer), who’s duking it out for the Democratic Nomination a week before the Ohio primary. Steven’s boss Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the campaign manager. The three men are about as slick as they come at the game of politics, and they pretty much have the White House sewn up until things rapidly and tragically begin to fall apart.

The downward spiral begins when Steven gets a phone call from Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), campaign manager for Morris’ rival, an Arkansas Senator; Duffy wants Steven to jump ship and come work for the Senator’s campaign. At the same time, Steven has taken to late-night trysts with a Morris intern named Molly (Evan Rachel Wood). Before long, all of the storylines (and more) eventually start to collide in a political train wreck of biblical proportions.

As an actor, Clooney has proven himself over the years, but when all is said and done, he may have a more solid resume as a producer and director. Here he picks his projects very carefully, and his track record remains perfect with Ides. Though, yes, flawed in spots, Ides nevertheless is utterly compelling and as close to a white-knuckle ride as you can get– even without any car chases, gun shots, or explosions.

The cast and their performances, though, are the best things going on here. Gosling, who already proved in himself in last month’s Drive, is still at the top of his game here, delivering a visceral performance that’s both haunting and understated. Hoffman and Giamatti, who have never disappointed, put forth their best again here, and Evan Rachel Wood (why isn’t she a big, huge star yet?) is heartbreakingly wonderful.

The script, based on D.C. Insider Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, is as close to Aaron Sorkin as you can get without being an episode of The West Wing, and though it sputters here and there, the bombshell moments are jaw-dropping, and the dialogue is sharp and perfectly terse.

Even though The Ides of March won’t do anything to change the political landscape, it’s still a rock-solid thrill ride with some of the best acting of the year… and the perfect escape from the already tedious 2012 campaign season.

4/5 stars