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The “behind the scenes of politics thriller” is a good genre, especially if spruced up with a bit of sex and crime. George Clooney’s latest directorial effort takes the genre a bit further into the contemplative, semi-arthouse realm, he shifts the workplace  values of the political staff, loyalty in particular, to center stage. When the spotlights are turned on to illuminate these, what we see is terrible. Loyalty is a the only currency that counts, says Philip Seymor Hoffmann’s character, the head campaign manager for Clooney’s Senator-come-President. He does not know that Ryan Gosling’s character will believe this, but take it at face value: currencies can be traded, swapped, bet on. Gosling is forced into situations, but decides his way out of them by learning from the best, the most ruthless heads of both  the Democrat’s and the Republican’s campaign. He is maneuvered by the Republican counterpart (Paul Giamatti) into a lose-lose situation, he stumbles across a dangerous episode in the candidate’s life – and he (and Clooney the director and script co-author) manages to twist both wires into one fuse.

Gosling, Hoffmann, Giamatti and Clooney make a brilliant set of lead actors in this polit-play. There may be narrative weaknesses, but maybe not: I was confused towards the end why the film does not end five minutes earlier than it does – but would it have ended, we would have missed a very strong scene that re-establishes not only the new order of power in the universe, but also indicates how little chance the winner of these games will ever have of finding redemption. Those voices in your head will never stop, this burden on the shoulders will never go away, will only become more balanced hopefully as new deeds and demons pile up.

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