Make the myth, break the myth, or explain the myth — these are the ways Hollywood takes on politics in film. This year, three movies, each with a different approach, but all steeped in the politics of their day, have a chance to win the Academy’s big prize.
Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” begins with the 16th president’s boots in the muddied, bloodied ground of the Civil War, but it’s only later that he gets truly dirty, stepping into Washington’s legislative muck; just another politician, however noble his cause, using political means to achieve political ends.
“Means” and “ends” also play a starring role in “Zero Dark Thirty,” the most thorough cinematic treatment yet of this country’s decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. Whatever director Kathryn Bigelow intended — likely to make an interesting movie people would want to see and talk about (Mission accomplished!) — she’s also authored the post-9/11 generation’s foremost political Rorschach test.
And then there’s “Argo”: A real movie about a fake one. At its core a thriller, a spy romp with historical backbone, the story is real and director Ben Affleck has little more to do than present a colorful forensic examination of how it all went down.
For these three, the critics, with their pens, and audiences, with their pocketbooks, have turned in mostly similar reviews. But the majority of our (and other countries’) best political films never approach Oscar glory, instead passing quietly into a Netflix-ian abyss. None of the seven films listed below were nominated for the Academy’s big prize, but each, in its own way, demands a few hours from your day.
‘The Ghost Writer’:
Pierce Brosnan! Who knew? Playing an especially repellent version of former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, the former 007 finishes with a memorable flair, asking the “ghost writer” of his autobiography a question no one — be they his conservative aides or liberal opponents — wants to answer:
“Do you know what I’d do if I was in power again? I’d have two queues at airports: one for flights where we’d done no background checks, infringed on no one’s civil bloody liberties, used no intelligence gained by torture. And on the other flight we’d do everything we possibly could to make it perfectly safe. And then we’d see which plane the Rycarts of this world would put their bloody kids on! And you can put that in the book!”
‘In the Loop’:
We’re still waiting on the DVD Edition of Armando Iannucci’s (See: HBO’s “VEEP”) Anglo-American farce to be translated from its original Orwellian. In the meantime, we’ll get back to work sorting out “who leaked Liza Weld’s PWIP-PIP paper to the BBC!”
In a story about bankers coming up on the shadows of The Great Recession, Paul Bettany plays a senior analyst with a controversial take on the Wall Street/Main Street divide (or lack thereof), and what role he’s played in the economic fortunes of a nation:
If you really want to do this with your life you have to believe that you’re necessary. And you are. People want to live like this in their cars and their big f****g houses that they can’t even pay for? Then you’re necessary. The only reason they all get to continue living like kings is because we’ve got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off and the whole world gets really f*****g fair really f*****g quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do but they don’t. They want what we have to give them, but they also want to play innocent and pretend they have no idea where it came from. That’s more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow.
Tim Robbins is a conservative business tycoon, “Bob Roberts,” running for the Senate, singing folk songs up and down the campaign trail. Alan Rickman is his political shepherd.
And Gore Vidal, somehow, plays his opponent.
(Note a young Jack Black cameo at the :52 mark of the trailer)
Could a half-wit gardener ascend to highest echelon of Washington D.C. political commentators? This adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s short novel, starring Peter Sellers, answers a resounding, “I guess.”
The Berlin Wall has come down, but young “Alex” has been tasked with keeping his mother, an East German partisan who has just awoken, fragile, from a coma, behind the Iron Curtain of her imagination.
‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’:
It’s simple, really. These people just want to eat. They want, indeed demand, what they’re expected to have. But Luis Buñuel, the surrealist director, has other ideas.