Video Verdict: ‘Ides of March,’ ‘Abduction’

Ryan Gosling plays an idealistic campaign strategist in the political drama “The Ides of March.”

This week’s home video releases include a thriller designed to turn Taylor Lautner into an action star and a powerful political drama from actor-director George Clooney.

Ides of March

4 stars (out of four)
Rated R for pervasive language
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

George Clooney is a great actor, but he’s even more impressive as a director. Each of his previous directorial efforts – “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Leatherheads” – has been outstanding, and “The Ides of March” is just as solid.

Clooney not only directed the film, he co-wrote the screenplay and co-starred, succeeding each step of the way. The story centers on Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), an up-and-coming campaign strategist working to elect Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Morris (Clooney). Meyers isn’t naïve, but this job feels different because he believes in everything Morris stands for. As the campaign moves forward, however, Meyers learns secrets that destroy his admiration of the candidate and remind him how underhanded politics can be.

Clooney is such a charismatic screen presence that he seems custom made to play political figures, and Gosling is terrific in every scene. Perhaps the most impressive thing about “Ides” is that the talent doesn’t stop with the two of them. The acting ensemble also includes Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei and Jeffrey Wright, and each actor lives up to his/her usually high standards. That explains why the “Ides” cast was nominated for Best Acting Ensemble at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and why the film received four Golden Globe nominations, including nods for best picture and director.

“Ides” hit theaters in October, but it seems more timely now that the Republican presidential primaries are heating up. The film, adapted from playwright Beau Willimon’s “Farragut North,” is fictional, but it clearly drew inspiration from real-life happenings. The title, of course, refers to the March 15 political killing of Roman statesman Julius Caesar, and it is appropriate because U.S. presidential primaries tend to peak in March.

“The Ides of March” deserves the attention it’s getting from awards voters, and it will be a shame if it doesn’t wind up in this year’s Oscar race.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include two featurettes on the making of the film and an audio commentary by Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov.

Abduction

3 stars
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, brief language, some sexual content and teen partying
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and on demand

“Abduction” is obviously designed to coax Taylor Lautner’s “Twilight” fans to another genre because everything about it screams, “teen movie.” That may sound like a terrible thing, but it’s not. Action movies have their place, and there’s nothing wrong with a shoot ’em up made specifically for young people.

Directed by John Singleton (“Boyz n the Hood,” “2 Fast 2 Furious”),
“Abduction” begins with Nathan Harper (Lautner) attending a high school party with his pals. This sequence is designed primarily to let viewers know that he has a longstanding thing for his next door neighbor, Karen (Lily Collins), and that his father (Jason Isaacs) is a real hard ass when Nathan gets out of line. Both of these developments become important when Nathan and Karen discover a Web site featuring a missing child who looks surprisingly like him. Intrigued, Nathan begins to investigate and comes to the conclusion that his parents aren’t who they say they are. When he confronts them, a series of bizarre happenings put both Nathan and Karen in danger and force them to go on the run.

“Abduction” isn’t the smartest movie to hit theaters in 2011, but it is reasonably well plotted, especially for a flick that is essentially attempting a “90210”/“Die Hard” hybrid. Some of what happens is predictable, but Singleton and screenwriter Shawn Christensen deliver enough fresh bits to keep things interesting.

“Abduction” also scores points for using surprisingly solid actors in supporting roles. The underappreciated Maria Bello plays Nathan’s mom, Sigourney Weaver portrays an eclectic psychiatrist and Alfred Molina plays a CIA agent who is appropriately enigmatic. Lautner is yet to establish himself as a “serious” actor, but he is physically gifted and has lots of onscreen charisma, which is all the role of Nathan requires.

It’s doubtful that “Abduction” will turn Lautner into the next Bruce Willis or Matt Damon, but the movie serves its primary purpose, which is to provide teens with a satisfying slice of weekend fun.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include two making-of features, a gag reel and a video production journal featuring Lautner.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Courageous”: Faith-based movie from the creators of “Fireproof” (2008). The plot follows four Georgia police officers forced to adjust their beliefs about life, family and religion after one of them experiences a tragedy. Alex Kendrick co-wrote, directed and stars in the film. Ken Bevel, Ben Davies and Kevin Downes also star.

HBO movies about black Americans: February is Black History Month, and HBO is getting a jump on the celebration by rolling out three titles celebrating the accomplishments of black Americans: “The Tuskegee Airmen,” “Thurgood” and “The Josephine Baker Story.” “Airmen” is a 1995 HBO film that focuses on America’s first squadron of black combat pilots. “Thurgood” is a taping of Laurence Fishburne’s one-man tribute to civil rights pioneer and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. “Baker” is a 1991 drama looking at the personal and professional life of its title character, a performer who became a sensation in 1920s Paris. Each film received widespread acclaim when shown on HBO, and all are available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download.

“Belle de Jour”: Criterion Collection release of director Luis Bunuel’s 1967 drama about a Paris housewife (Catherine Deneuve) who works as a prostitute by day. The film won the Golden Lion and Pasinetti Award at the 1967 Venice Film Festival. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“Age of Heroes”: Thriller based on the true story of 30 Assault Unit, a British special forces group formed by James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Sean Bean and Danny Dyer star. Directed and co-written by Adrian Vitoria.

“Delocated!” – Seasons 1 & 2: With season three of this Adult Swim comedy debuting in February, Warner Brothers is bringing the first 19 episodes to DVD. The show stars Jon Glaser as the patriarch of a family living in the witness protection program while simultaneously appearing on a reality TV series.

“Adam-12” – Season Six: All 24 episodes of the second-to-last season of Jack Webb’s popular television drama about Los Angeles police officers. Martin Milner and Kent McCord star.

“Bombay Beach”: Documentary film telling the stories of three people living in the poor, Southern California community of Bombay Beach, next to the Salton Sea. The movie, directed by Alma Har’el, won best feature documentary at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

“Cold Sweat”: Argentinian horror film written and directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano. The movie focuses on a young man (Facundo Espinosa) trying to rescue his girlfriend from demented political radicals. Presented in Spanish with English subtitles.

“Sliders” – The Fifth and Final Season: Last 18 episodes of the 1990s science-fiction TV series about characters with the ability to travel between parallel universes. Cleavant Derricks, Kari Wuhrer, Robert Floyd and Tembi Locke star.

 

— Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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