Sunday, August 31, 2008

Recount: Grade A

Recount (2008)
Kevin Spacey, Laura Dern, Denis Leary, Tom Wilkinson, Ed Begley Jr, John Hurt, Bob Balaban.
Director Jay Roach

This HBO docudrama tells the story of the 2000 US presidential election, in which the vote was so close that the country did not know who won for 35 days until finally the Supreme Court simply declared Bush the winner. Spacey is head of the Gore campaign and Leary, in a notable performance, is his foul-mouthed technician. On the Republican side, Tom Wilkinson absolutely channels James Baker. Laura Dern is fantastic as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Bush and Gore are portrayed only in glimpses, but seen on contemporary television snippets. The film is remarkably tense, considering that we know the story by heart and there is no mystery about how it turned out. I would put it right up there with All The President’s Men as one of the great historical political thrillers.

Is it accurate and fair? DVD extras, which include interviews with some of the principals, suggest that the filmmakers took great care to assure that the facts were correct, and they seemed so by my memory. However characters come from the art of filmmaking, and though based on the facts, they definitely make the Democrats the good guys and victims. Spacey is the noble protagonist, Dern/Harris is a buffoon, and Wilkinson/Baker is an unprincipled Machiavelli. However, the vote count always was within the margin of error so the outcome of the race was, and always will be, genuinely indeterminate. I came away feeling that the Republicans did not really “steal” the election. Despite all the dirty tricks and hard feelings, the resolution had to be political, as there was no other possibility. In that sense, the film is laudably educational.

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