American politics have given us number of dramas one could wish for. From sex scandals to mass conspiracies to secret alliances, the post World War II American political world has steeped in lot of controversies. The Hollywood film-makers in these decades have brought out dark surface of the political machinery. There have also been inspirational tales, where men persistently stood by their ideals and stormed against the back-stabbers and manipulators. Whatever the type of tale it is, we feel like that we are getting a forbidden glimpse. The movies presented in the list give such political insights, although they are a little less on the suspense side. These films have managed to paint everyone in shades of grey, and mostly have avoided the Hollywood pitfall of over dramatization.
The Ides of March (2011)
George Clooney’s gripping political drama, with few twists and turns, shows how loyalty and integrity acts as a booby trap in the political game, where treacheries constantly change one’s perception. The film weaves a clear cut view about the democratic politics and the sacrifices involved in winning elections. Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, an idealist and strong believer of Governor Mike Morris (played by Clooney). Soon, Myers gets involved in a dangerous politics game of sex and betrayal, when Mike’s dark side comes to light. Top notch actors and smart dialogues are the movie’s strength.
Ron Howard’s brisk and intense drama presents a complex view on one of America’s controversial politician. This film is based on the interview between David Frost and disgraced President Richard Nixon. The interview was mostly set to coax out a confession from Nixon’s mouth about Watergate scandal. Although the original interview ran hours and hours, Howard has cleverly packaged into a 2 hour movie that works about on every level. Frank Langella, rather than imitating Nixon and turning him into a caricature, he creates his own version of Nixon, which is as hypnotic as Anthony Hopkins’ Nixon.
Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Mike Nichols’ ‘based on a true story’, incisive political drama follows Texan Congressman Charlie Wilson in the early 80’s, who with a help of a socialite and out of control CIA man, covertly funds the Afghan resistance to fight against the Soviets. Apart from expressing indignation on the plight of Afghan refugees, Wilson spends his time with women and booze. Although the film is sanitized, it smartly looks at the geo-politics thinking of the American politicians. Tom Hanks may not be the perfect choice to play Wilson, but he gives an ingratiating performance and his fiery conversation with Hoffman is a delight to watch.
Thirteen Days (2000)
Roger Donaldson’s engaging politics power play displays the tensest moments in the cold war and in John Kennedy’s presidency. Bolstered by taut script and wonderful performances from Bruce Greenwood and Kevin Costner, the film makes us realize the tension and fear unfurled in the American capital state. Although the film is a glorification of JFK’s leadership, it doesn’t feel manipulative or nauseating. It’s also a fine character study that explores social psychological and political tensions surrounding the Cuban missile crisis.
The Contender (2000)
Rod Lurie’s provocative political drama is about the character assassination politics, which took a dig into the Clinton administration. Jeff Bridges plays the genial president Jack Hathaway, who faces serious opposition when he is about to appoint the first woman vice-president. The young female candidate (played by Joan Allen) is chagrined by conservatively minded Senator (Gary Oldman), whose committee delves into the sexual misgivings of her past. Although the film’s third act, especially the patriotic speech, is very less convincing, it is worth watching for the brilliant and nuanced performances of Oldman and Bridges.
Oliver Stone’s 190 minute take on much disliked American President/politician is a flawed yet invigorating character study. Stone mesmerizingly crafts together flashbacks and newsreels convey a real sense of empathy towards this most infamous U.S. President. Although Nixon’s conversations and subconscious rambling are contrived for dramatic purposes, it makes us remember Shakespeare’s principal characters Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear, who were all destroyed by an inherent fatal flaw. Anthony Hopkins’ outstanding performance is the backbone of the film. There are several memorable scenes, especially the one at Lincoln memorial, where Nixon is confronted by student protestors.
The Candidate (1972)
Michael Ritchie’s contemplative look at the political machinery has now really become prophetic in its warning message. Robert Redford plays an idealistic young lawyer, who is involved in a political campaign, but hates to play the media games. However, when the desire for power gradually creeps up on him, he is lead to make a fatal compromise. This film carefully studies the seductive nature of power. The clear-eyed and unsentimental political look never blames the degradations of power to a certain individual. This film has stood the test of time and could even be found in the present moral dilemma in politics brought about by the role of major corporate Medias.
Advise & Consent (1962)
Otto Preminger’s brutal expose of American political process (based on the best-selling novel) is also one of the first American movies to have homosexual subplot in the proceedings. The array of talented actors gathered by Preminger is absolutely stunning. The film is centered on the appointment of Robert Leffingwell as secretary of state. The long, arduous process that takes for the appointment makes rival veteran politicians to play the power games. Although, the plot might seem simple, it is far more complicated and carries too many surprises. The excellent ensemble consists of Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, and Burgess Meredith. This film possesses a look of genuineness (especially the senate hearing room) that no other political movie has.
All the King’s Men (1949)
Robert Rossen’s blistering political drama, based on the Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer novel, chronicles the rise and fall of Southern demagogue Willie Stark. Stark starts with a burning sense of purpose, but eventually fizzle out because of his uncontrollable greed for power. The dirty tricks or ploys employed in the movie aren’t outdated as we have experienced more dark things. The novel was condensed to make up for a straightforward screenplay, which proved to be a good thing, especially after considering Steven Zallian’s script for the 2006 remake. The remake that took a non-linear approach suffered from poor focus and uncertainty. Crawford’s transitioning performance as Willie earned him an Oscar.
Mr. Smith goes to Washington (1939)
Frank Capra’s classic depression era drama is a statement about American ideals, which must be revisited often to know how much the ideals have dangerously evolved. James Stewart gives a thundering performance as a young senator, who tries to expose corruption and withhold true American ideals. However, his fight against graft is constantly threatened by the grinding political machine. Capra, democrat and a humorist, has profoundly laid the morals and filled it with real emotions, where none of the exchanges become heavy-handed. The patriotic appeal is there, but there are no preachments.