Levitt Reviews Films On Politics



Many are already sick of this political season.  With the sheer volume of candidates, the volatility of the candidates, and the endless 24 hour analysis cycle some wonder when it will ever end.  Debates, town halls, analysis of debates and town halls, facebook posts , angry tweets, venting,  your friends make fear dire predictions if the wrong person will gain the top post,  Others warn of the government siphoning off your income for nefarious purposes and some even threaten to leave the United States if their candidate doesn’t win the presidency. Bon Voyage!

So, in keeping with this busy, hot-headed political season, I’ve decided to add my voice to the mix and review political films.  Now, When I decided to embark on this topic, I suddenly realized that I really don’t like political films all that much.  There are only a handful that I can bear to watch more than one time.  Then I thought about why.  I think the main reason is that politicians by in large do not directly control their destiny. They can give fiery speeches or debate an issue but they still have to wait and convince other people to take action.  Wheras Bruce Willis can just shoot somebody in the face. problem solved.  waiting for laws to pass through legislation is just not rich dramatic material.  You never hear someone exiting a theater stating that ” whew, thank god that law was enacted, that bill passed, that policy ratified.  Its just not compelling drama.

Furthermore politicians have to project and sometimes even assume a persona which exudes bragadoccio. Constantly under the lens of the media, they are forced constantly to defend their actions publicly and, as such, can almost never let down their guard, show indecision, humility, and exasperation.  The most memorable movie characters however openly show their flaws and their humanity to give movie goers a true mirror to their own souls.  Simply, Politicians barely ever show us “The wheels turning”.

So therefore, given the slow pace and stiff exterior of politics, my favorite movies about politics have less to do with governing or making changes in policy but using politics as back drop for stories more about life, people, and character.

The American President


The most populous movie about politics that comes to mind is of course “The American President” (B). Basically the movie is about a relationship that happens despite the public scrutiny, limitations of the office. A widower president is a novel idea for a president and the romance is still a classy noble affair showing the president (michael Douglas) discussing policy/falling in love w political lobbyist (annette Benning).  Its a good movie well written in the Sorkin style and with good performances especially by Martin Sheen and Michael J Fox who basically jump-started their careers (each with a political TV series) again with their standout performances in this film.  I found the main relationship a little too buttoned up and classy. They not only like each other but respect each others political views.  Now, that’s hot!  Sorkin seems too interested in provided a balanced relationship with two intelligent, well spoken, politically conscious people.  Relationships usually operate on more primal levels. Not that I wanted a more lurid/50 Shades of Gray treatment exactly but the two leads admire each other and are too sensitive regarding each other’s respective political roles that the actual romance part is a little too polite/passionless for my tastes.




Dave (C)- is a sort of “fish out of water” tale of a regular amiable temp employment agency owner who is asked to temporarily impersonate the president-because of his physical resemblance- while the president is unconscious in a coma.  Dave (Kevin Kline) spends much of the film trying to dutifully carry out the role of president while Chief Of Staff just wants him to be a “suit” who reads speeches and doesn’t take any of his own initiative.  The films most inspired part has Dave even hiring his own personal accountant to work out the kinks in the national budget.  I could have used more cute satirical touches like this. The film is okay, pleasant enough but suffers from the main character being too earnest and bland.  Dave dilligently tries to help people and repair estranged relations with his vice president and his wife so that an actual romance ensues. However ,I would have prefferred the Dave character to have more of an edge, a kid in a candy store  or party vibe that would have leant more fun to the most powerful office in the land. He should have relished his power… “I can tell people to do anything” and the film could have badly also used some scenes of him stirring up trouble, more pandemonium etc since he was only temporary and he didn’t really have the any of the real weight or responsibility of the office.   Instead, the real edge of the film and most of the scene-chewing in this  film is provided by by Frank Langella whose character because flawed is more able to interestingly misuse his authority, act selfishly, and to color out of the lines.

*Other notable films about politics: Nixon (strangely miscast, muddled narrative, I ended up disliking Nixon even more than before I watched the film. Not a good sign) Mr Smith Goes To Washington (saw it a long time ago, don’t remember much but it has Jimmy Stewart so it must be good) Same thing for Fail-safe (didn’t see it but it has Henry Fonda and was directed by Sidney Lumet so it must also rule.






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