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DVD ReviewEven as the events unfolded, you knew that Hollywood would get its mitts on this one before too long, and here we are—a chance to revisit the tumultuous 36 days between Election Day 2000 and the victor of the plaintiff in Bush v. Gore, ensuring that George W. Bush would be sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States. (Richard Ford's terrific novel The Lay of the Land makes great, similar hay out of the same historical moment.) There's not a lot of suspense, really, unless you live in an alternate reality and have been laboring under the illusion that the Gore Administration has been at the helm for the last eight years; the movie certainly lacks a deftness of touch, but it's still got its compelling aspects, particularly in its casting.
For dramaturgical purposes our hero is Ron Klain, formerly Vice President Gore's Chief of Staff, the loser of an internecine campaign political squabble, re-recruited to the Gore team for a final all-hands-on-deck push to the election. He's played by Kevin Spacey, always an intriguing actor and one unafraid to limn the darkness, but there's no getting around the fact that as a character Klain is just a device—nobody's very interested in him, and as presented here, he's not very interesting. But the whole project is basically chattering classes catnip, and the real brio of the project is in the dramatic representation of folks familiar to C-SPAN groupies.
She doesn't get the most screen time, but maybe the most memorable performance in the show is Laura Dern's, as Katherine Harris, Florida's Secretary of State and statewide chair of George W. Bush's Presidential campaign. With her Norma Desmond-like capacity for self-dramatization and degree from the Bozo the Clown School of Cosmetology, Harris makes for a perfect foil, the sort who would be laughable, but whose political power makes her dangerous. (The conceit of the picture is that Bush and Gore themselves aren't part of the show, either shot briefly from behind, or simply as voices emanating from speaker phones.) Tom Wilkinson gets his Texas on as James A. Baker III, who rides to the rescue of the son of his political mentor and close friend—this Englishman is as winning as a slick Lone Star State diplomat as he was as a Madison Avenue attorney in Michael Clayton.
The movie is more or less politically agnostic, but the larger point is that the Democrats brought knives to a gun fight, and nowhere is that more clear in the characterization of Warren Christopher. Gore played a game of My Secretary of State Can Beat Up Yours, and he lost—John Hurt perfectly embodies Christopher's ineffectual pomposity, and he's such a creature of Washington's inflated sense of itself that he doesn't even realize he's getting housed. Smaller parts, too, are played with uncanny accuracy, like Bob Balaban as Ben Ginsberg, and Ed Begley Jr. as David Boies.
The film is directed by Jay Roach, who doesn't have the deftest touch—he directed the Austin Powers movies, which can be stupid funny but don't exactly light up with the Lubitsch touch. And inevitably we get caught up in the procedural—not just butterfly ballots and hanging chad, but nuances of election law and jurisdictional issues between state and Federal courts, not the raw material of gripping cinema. Danny Strong's script relies a bit too much on what it sees as keen detail, but is done in a sort of leaden way—much is made of Boies' sweet tooth, for instance, or Baker's penchant for Dr Pepper, more an accumulation of trivia than glimmers of insight. At close to two hours, the film feels a little padded out, too, and the entertainment value of the project dwindles as the mud fight comes to its end on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. It's fun for a time but seems to overstay its welcome.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: A pretty fair transfer, though occasionally a little blotchy—there's lots of 2000 news footage, which is fantastically staticky.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: All the audio is clear, though some of the ambient noise on the 5.1 track is distracting and overmixed.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jay Roach and Danny Strong
Extras Review: The director and screenwriter provide a chatty commentary track, which frequently spills over into the self-congratulatory—there's nothing about and no one associated with this project that they don't absolutely adore, and it can get to be a little much. But there's some good talk about the extensive research that went into the script, about stretching the limited made-for-cable budget, and about the contributions to the project by one of its executive producers, the late Sydney Pollack. Also here are three promo pieces made for HBO—in one, Spacey chats with Klain, whom he portrays; in another, Balaban does the same with Ben Ginsburg; and the third features interviews with Roach, prominent members of the cast, and CNN contributor Jeffrey Toobin, all vouching for the project's bona fides.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsAn occasionally wooden but reasonably heartfelt look at the circus that came to town after the 2000 Presidential election.
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