Thursday, October 9, 2008

Short Take: Recount

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Jay Roach's Recount, which he directed from a script credited to Danny Strong, is a mediocre dramatization of the extraordinary aftermath of the 2000 Presidential election. The film truncates and misrepresents key aspects of the post-election recount fight, and it doesn't create a compelling retelling of what happened on its own terms. The material just isn't shaped into a satisfying story. Roach handles some scenes well, such as his slapstick restaging of the Miami-Dade white-collar riot, but most of the film seems perfunctory in its execution. The various principals are a mixed bag. The protagonist, Al Gore campaign staffer Ron Klain (played by Kevin Spacey) is a potentially dynamic character--he wholeheartedly fights for Gore despite their personal estrangement--but the script doesn't develop his conflicts enough to make him interesting. If Spacey hadn't been one of the film's producers, it would be hard to understand why he took on the role. Laura Dern gives an amusing performance as Florida's ultra-flakey Secretary of State Katharine Harris, and Bruce McGill, who plays a lobbyist sent by the George W. Bush campaign to mind her, quietly dominates every scene he's in. Unfortunately, neither is given much to do, and the same is true of the rest of the cast, which includes such solid performers as Bob Balaban, John Hurt, and Denis Leary. That said, the only performance I actively disliked was Tom Wilkinson as James Baker. He plays Baker as a laid-back, seen-it-all good ol' boy, and he suggests none of the actual Baker's conspicuous intensity and drive. In many ways, what's wrong with Wilkinson's performance is what's wrong with the film as a whole: it's superficially competent, but it doesn't do its subject justice. The story of 2000 Florida recount was a remarkable mixture of wackiness, irony, and nail-biting suspense, and it may ultimately be seen as one of the most unjust (and ultimately tragic) episodes in U.S. history. It deserves better than this mildly diverting retelling.

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