Thursday, November 26, 2009

Primary Colors

Day 329 - 11/26/09 - Movie #329

BEFORE: Politics week continues - did you notice that all three films so far are about campaigning or getting elected? For once, that was intentional... I'm also proud of the fact that I'm crossing some films off of my list that I've been meaning to watch for about a decade. So even though the list might not be getting much shorter, I'll take that as a sign of some progress...

THE PLOT: A man joins the political campaign of a smooth-operator candidate for president of the USA.

AFTER: This is a (very) thinly-veiled look at the Clinton campaign, based on the book of the same name. John Travolta plays Gov. Jack Stanton, and Emma Thompson plays Susan Stanton, (aka Schmillary Schminton...). It's sort of told from the P.O.V. of Henry Burton, a young black man who joins up as campaign manager for Stanton because he believes in his rhetoric and his image, only to become more and more disillusioned by him when he realizes that the governor has a few skeletons in his closet.

We all sort of went through this with Clinton as a candidate, and then obviously as President as well. He was so likable, so believable, that when the first woman came forward with claims of an affair, many people just wrote it off. But then there was a second, maybe even a third, and finally I think we all just came to realize that this guy had a real problem staying faithful to his wife, but since Hillary stood by him, they either had some kind of open marriage or understanding, or just accepted that part of being charismatic enough to become President was also being charismatic enough to sleep around. Come on, we all know that Presidents get a little action on the side - JFK, Eisenhower, Jefferson...isn't that WHY men want to be President?

The movie doesn't follow the Clinton timeline exactly - but it is an interesting study in the kind of politics that candidates engage in to discredit their opponents. Stanton refuses to "go negative" in his ads, since that sort of thing tends to reflect badly on the attacker, but the Stanton campaign ends up hiring an investigator, Libby Holden (Kathy Bates) to dig up what dirt she can - not only on Stanton's opponents, but on Stanton himself. The theory being, if she can find out about the other women he's been with, so can the press.

I'd like to get an account of which real-life people all of these fictional characters are supposed to represent. Campaign strategist Richard Jemmons (Billy Bob Thornton) is obviously a stand-in for James Carville, and Daisy (Maura Tierney) could be Dee Dee Myers. Stanton's opponent, Senator Harris is probably Paul Tsongas, and Wikipedia suggests that Gov. Picker (Larry Hagman) is sort of an amalgam of Jerry Brown, Ross Perot and Gov. Askew of Florida. Umm...OK?

But in the movie, it's Gov. Picker who's involved with the "Clearwater" scandal - wasn't it the Clintons themselves who were involved with the Whitewater scandal in real-life? I guess they didn't want to pile too many scandals on the lead character, in order to keep him somewhat likable...

The Democratic primary is portrayed here as something like "American Idol" or "Survivor", where the front-runners keep getting dis-credited and eliminated, leaving Stanton/Clinton as the best choice among those remaining. With what I remember about the 1992 campaign, I'm OK with that analogy.

I'm also happy there was a very prominent Thanksgiving dinner scene, which justifies my decision to watch this film on the day before said holiday...

Also in supporting roles: Paul Guilfoyle (Lt. Brass from "CSI"), Alison Janney (from "West Wing"), Diane Ladd, Rob Reiner, and Mykelti Williamson.

RATING: 7 out of 10 Krispy Kremes

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