It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction. However, when it comes to politics, especially American Politics, well, all bets are off! It becomes increasingly difficult to separate fiction from reality – especially, when both influence each other so well!
Throughout this series of articles, we spoke about some poignant documentaries, some dangerously close to reality yet fictional series, a pure mockery of the system through some others, an idealist perspective of governance, and much more. Our series of articles kicked off around the time of US elections, and ended with the inauguration of the new President.
Our series leaves you with a list of few remarkable films about American politics and procedure. We have not included many outstanding biopic films, for a simple reason that there are many and… well, it’s more about people they are based upon, than the process or the system. However, we do acknowledge that there are many good films there.
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
Dir: Frank Capra
A true blue classic film by Frank Capra, this is a monumental film in the history of Hollywood. It paved the way for many and brought the reality of politics on the silver screen with a tour de force performance by James Stewart.
James Stewart plays Mr. Smith, an idealistic (in other words, naive) senator, appointed to the senate by a corrupt governor. Believing that he can bring about a good change, Mr. Smith is hopeful as he is in the position of power. However, as he gets a reality check of the dark politics that takes place in Washington, his ideas soon shatter hard. He struggles to maintain sanity.
When this film was originally released, it was banned in some areas of the world as it differed with regional ideology, and was under controversy in the US because some thought it made senators look bad.
Wag The Dog (1997)
Dir: Barry Levinson
How do we build an opinion? Through information, of course! But what if the information we get has been manufactured to create a specific opinion? Well, that might sound as exactly what we experience these days in the news channel narratives today.
This brilliant film takes a humorous approach towards politics and the brand of “(mis) Information”. A sitting president is going for re-election but a sex scandal involving his name is about to break out. Creating a public image and sidelining this thing becomes important. A political spin doctor played brilliantly by Robert De Niro hires a Hollywood producer (ever so amazing, Dustin Hoffman) to “fabricate” a war and what follows is a whole fun ride of information – manufacturing information – and politics at its best!
The Contender (2000)
Dir: Rod Lurie
On the foothills of the Bill Clinton – Monica Lewinsky scandal, there was a lot of commotion in American politics and media. A film like The Contender came out as a reaction to these turbulent times.
Joan Allen gives a powerful performance as Senator Laine Hanson, who has been chosen by the president (Jeff Bridges) to take over the Vice Presidency following the sudden death of the current VP. But in her way of taking the position is the Congressman (Gary Oldman) at the head of the committee to select her. Instead of speaking on why she’s qualified for the job, questions about her past sexual encounters come up leading to the hearings, becoming a media sensation.
The film offers a sincere look at the deep rooted misogyny, and the sheer dirty business of politics in the Senate itself. It makes you cringe, angry, and sympathetic too. It shows the dirty side and makes you feel bad for actually enjoying it!
Joan Allen got her Oscar nomination for this film. Gary Oldman, Jeff Bridges are, as usual, marvellous!
Primary Colors (1998)
Dir: Mike Nichols
How codependent are reality and fiction? Well, nothing shows the close parallels between the two more than this film. Primary Colors is based on the book ‘Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics’ by Joe Klien who was covering the Presidential campaign of Bill Clinton for Newsweek.
The film mirrors the myriad campaign, the controversies, and the meteoric rise of Bill Clinton.
John Travolta puts his charm and parallels Bill Clinton’s charm which fascinated America. The film is seen through the eyes of a campaign worker who is a newbie in this vicious cutthroat world of politics. From campaign to election to final result, the film takes us on a journey into the underbelly of the beast!
Ides of March (2011)
Dir: George Clooney
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak; Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Beware the Ides of March.
What man is that?
A soothsayer bids you beware the Ides of March.
In the famous Shakespearean play ‘Julius Caesar’ this dialogue comes in the Scene 2 of Act 1. As the history goes, Caesar was assassinated on the ‘Ides of March’, the 15 March as the calendar goes. This dialogue foreshadows the ominous events that may unfold soon.
In this hard hitting political drama from the multi talented George Clooney, who has written – directed – and acted in the film, one can see the murky road that one gets subjected to while working the way up through the world of politics. This film is also seen through the eyes of a campaign manager, played by Ryan Gosling. Two heavyweight Democratic Party candidates are vying for the party nomination. The internal politics, the struggles of naive entrants, the duality and two faced nature of politicians… all these issues and to what end? Ides of March follows the sinister nature of political operations, which maintain a different image than what it is.
Interesting Trivia: This film is based upon a play Farragut North, written by Beau Willimon. He is also one of the co-writers of this film. Beau Willimon went on to create another famous and substantial political drama – House of Cards. You can read about the same in our previous piece here.
- The Candidate (1972) – Dir: Michael Ritchie
- Election (1999) – Dir: Alexander Payne
- Bob Roberts (1992) – Dir: Tim Robbins
- The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – Dir: John Franenheimer and its remake in 2004 directed by Jonathan Demme.
It is indeed a pleasure to get some insight into the world of politics, especially American Politics and political system, whose one decision can change the course of the world we live in. No wonder, all of us from around the world feel attracted towards it. Throughout our articles series, we have seen American politics through different takes – serious, funny, idealistic, and its inherent shrewdness. As the new era of presidency dawns upon America, we hope that fiction stops neither showing the right way to reality nor mocking it beautifully!
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.