Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I STILL Demand a Recount

If you're a Democrat, you'll love HBO's scathing political drama Recount because it validates your opinion that the 2000 election was stolen by George W. Bush, with Florida as Ground Zero. If you're a Republican, you'll love HBO's scathing political drama Recount because it validates your opinion that George W. Bush was ahead during every stage of the voting tabulations and thus won the election in 2000. Isn't bipartisanship fun?

In all seriousness, that's the amazing thing about Recount, its ability to appeal to all Americans regardless of party. The Republicans are depicted as (skillfully) manipulating the election and recount. Now, whether you see their actions as cunning-and-ruthless-but-necessary genius or diabolical, underhanded, unforgivable trickery and moral/political fraud, that's your call. However, the film IS slanted more toward the Democratic persuasion. After all, it's told through the POV of Ron Klain (Kevin Spacey), the guy in charge of Al Gore's recount team. But, it does show both sides, and I guess it's up to you to decide whether justice was done or not. In my opinion, hell no, it was not. That's just me, though.

Recount continues HBO's unending streak of greatness. This is a fictional movie heavily based on real life events, specifically the election of 2000 and the recount that ensued in the wake of the controversy over votes in Florida. It proves that truth is often stranger, and more interesting, than fiction. If you paid attention to the news during that time (I really didn't), you'll recognize the faces of the public figures notorious for this constitutional catastrophe. But no matter how much coverage you watched, I guarantee that you'll learn something new. The film delves deeply into the minutiae without getting buried in it. In fact, the film's hour and fifty minute running time flies by. The more I learned, though, and I learned a LOT, the more sick and angry I became. Purging 20,000 voters (predominantly black) from the rosters and turning them away from voting just because their names were sort of similar to those of convicted felons. Riots. Sabotaging the recount efforts. Endless legal battles. Chads (oops, I mean "chad" - we learn in Recount that the plural of "chad" is "chad"). Corruption in every level of the government. A Supreme Court decision that ultimately came down in favor of Dubya, but it would only count once in history and then never count again. It would set no precedent. We would learn nothing. The first time that the Supreme Court ever made that kind of ruling. Conspiracy doesn't even begin to describe the atrocity that happened in 2000.

Recount was directed by Jay Roach (yeah, the guy responsible for the Austin Powers franchise - crazy, right?) with such remarkable finesse and control that it's hard to imagine him wrangling Fat Bastard...or Mike Myers' even bigger ego. He's got something good going. Stay the course, man. No doubt he'll receive attention come the Emmys and Globes. Someone else even more deserving of the accolades is screenwriter Danny Strong, the man Buffy fans know and love as geek extraordinaire Jonathan. His script is a work of art. It's some of the smartest, most exhilarating screenwriting I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. I'm not the biggest fan of the low-key jazz score (it sort of screams bad melodrama or movie of the week), but it grew on me the second time I watched, and it's a trifle in the grand scheme of things. Recount is a masterpiece. It's riveting up until the last breathtaking moments. Even though you know how it ends, or maybe because you do, the suspense is killer. I also think there's a blissful moment somewhere in there where you think things might turn out differently, at least there was for me. Then, sad, cruel reality sets in. And speaking of sad and cruel, it is absolutely devastating and physically painful to hear Spacey speak these all-too-true wo
rds: "I believe we end this thing when all the votes have been counted and we know who really won...or...when you can't win...even if you won."

The acting is unparalleled, as per usual on HBO. Check out the all-star line-up: Kevin Spacey, Tom Wilkinson (on HBO again), Denis Leary, Bob Balaban, John Hurt, Ed Begley, Jr., and Laura Dern. Oh, wonderful Laura Dern hamming it up as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, her eyes glassy and dazed, being pushed around and happy just to be in the spotlight as long as she's got her make-up on. Dern is hilarious. I couldn't get enough of her. But beyond the hilarity, she really makes Harris seem like she actually has a soul. That's good acting. There's one chilling, masterful moment in which Dern completely morphs her face from private-Katherine to PUBLIC!!-Katherine. That alone could win her an award. Tom Wilkinson is great, of course, as the sinister head of the Bush camp, and don't worry, he has a much better hairpiece than in John Adams. I was really, really impressed with Begley, Jr.'s depiction of Appellate Attorney for Gore David Boies. He just knocked my liberal socks off, especially in his courtroom scenes where he really made me believe in the ideals that he was fighting for, and which the Supreme Court proceeded to shit upon.

Kevin Spacey is the star, both in name and in performance. This is his best work since American Beauty. It's nice to have him back in full form. He's just astonishing as Ron Klain. His performance is intense, rich, and emotional. There's this triple take he gives near the end that is so deftly exquisite that it made me think, "Give him the Emmy now." Then I caught myself and remembered Paul Giamatti in John Adams. Seriously, it's impossible to compare the performances - one is in something that's less than two hours, the other is in something that's almost ten hours. Even though I'll always vote Giamatti (well, I suppose I'd have to be objective if someone was really better, but that'll happen when Intelligent Designers preach evolution), I wish it could be a tie, or that they could be in different categories and not pitted against each other like they'll inevitably be. Ladies and gentlemen, a look into my crowded mind! I'll leave it at this: Spacey's work is award-worthy. I don't want to take away from what he does in Recount. He's heartbreaking and astounding.

So, like, I have a question: What is up with democracy in this country? Why do we even HAVE a popular vote if it doesn't matter? The electoral college is so screwed up. Isn't the point of a democracy to have every vote count individually? I live in Illinois, and we always go Democrat. I'm not going to stop voting, because if everyone had the attitude that history would repeat itself and didn't bother to vote, then that'd be bad. But, I would like my vote to have more significance, to stand on its own. Some pillar of democracy we are. So many references are made, tongue in cheek clearly (unless you believe in the conservative propaganda - we do see what we want to see, after all), to America being the last great democracy. The Bush campaign celebrates that the system worked. How disgusting. I don't want to be a part of that system. The system is broken, and I have little faith that it can be fixed. But if anyone can...oh please, Barack, help us hold our heads high again. I am so ashamed of being an American.

People always say that you can love your country but hate your government. Well, where does one end and the other begin? Doesn't the country enable the government? They're inextricably linked. The government turned the 2000 election into a crime, but the country made it possible. Recount is a brutal wake-up call. It came out at exactly the right time. It's not a happy movie and certainly not a hopeful one. It's realistic. But I think it provides us with the knowledge and the motivation to strive for something, anything, better. This film will polarize. It will shake people out of their apathy. I know I sound bitter, and I am. This film reignited my rage, and I think it will do the same for lots of other Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike (Republicans are always angry, even about the election that they snatched, and Democrats are for obvious reasons).

But here's the silver lining: rage is at least something palpable. We can work with it. That does make me feel some sort of hope. Wow, is this what hope feels like? I had forgotten. And let's be honest, because we're way beyond the point of niceties now - both sides are filled with rage, pent up for eight long years.

So, let's do it, people. As Americans, as human beings, let's rage against the machine together.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

1 comment:

Bill Treadway said...
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