“Republicans hate the beginning of the movie, Democrats hate the end,” George Clooney recently told USA Today. “So we’re good.” That dichotomy goes a long way toward explaining why this political drama—adapted by Clooney and his frequent collaborator Grant Heslov (Good Night, and Good Luck) from a play by Beau Willimon—proves engaging and even personal despite a story line that can only be described as trite. Clooney stars as an idealistic Pennsylvania governor mounting an insurgent campaign for the presidency, and his frank campaign rhetoric is a progressive’s wet dream; you just know it’s the platform Clooney would run on himself if he ever got into politics. Unfortunately, the bare-knuckle tactics of a Democratic primary battle have a way of dragging everyone down into the mud, and the movie ends on a note of utter hopelessness. Clooney directed with an actor’s appetite for vivid star turns, and he certainly gets them from Ryan Gosling (as the candidate’s starry-eyed young press secretary), Philip Seymour Hoffman (as the campaign’s chief strategist), and Paul Giamatti (as a cunning rival who’s several chess moves ahead of everyone else).