Review: RECOUNT

By at May 27, 2008 | 1:30 pm | Print

Recount

While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fight tooth-and-nail for every last delegate, HBO’s Recount relives George W. Bush and Al Gore doing much of the same in Florida– with the 2000 Presidency up for grabs and an election process in question.

Oh, who are we kidding? By the time director Jay Roach (Austin Powers trilogy, Meet the Parents) wraps this entertaining but flawed feature, it’s clear the Florida election process was an unmitigated disaster. If you’re in the Gore camp, you want to recount and recount until you’ve nailed down all votes. If you’re in the Bush camp, you just want to get out with a win intact. Recount may not be 100% evenhanded (how could it?), but we have no problem understanding the players’ motives on either side.

Tom Wilkinson as James Baker in RecountScreenwriter Danny Strong has developed a rigorously researched story, centering on the Gore campaign’s Ron Klain (a reserved Kevin Spacey) and Bush campaign hero James Baker (a subtly swaggering Tom Wilkinson, left). The candidates appear via recreated phone conversations, but Recount is really about the campaign drivers and saviors, the guys on the way inside.

Call it All the Vice President’s Men. We’re privy to the ins and outs of the Florida mess, as both sides strategize, counter attack and essentially sue the crap out of every person and organization in sight. The occasional repetition in Strong’s story is offset by the behind-the-scenes moments. I spent much of the film wondering, “Did that really happen? Did he really say that?” The real-life material really is too good to be true.

When a vote of millions comes down to fewer than 400 tallies — and no one knows how to confirm it — disaster is imminent. Roach takes us down that rabbit hole without leaning too hard on humor or absurdity. Instead, Strong’s script takes care of that with dialogue, so it’s up to veteran comedy director Roach to play the straight man. It works.

Laura Dern as Katherine Harris in RecountMany will comment incessantly as to whether or not the film is “fair.” To my eyes, Roach and Strong handle the characterizations with reality and dignity, especially that of Baker, who knew just how to play Florida and is not judged or chastized for doing so. The only participant made to look like a fool is former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, played with fatalistic gusto by Laura Dern. And from all accounts, it appears she really was a fool at best, delusional at worst.

If you lose interest in some of the minutiae, you can be sure there’s some eye-opening stuff around the bend in Recount, including a two-scene Hollywood ending that recalls everything from Casablanca to Citizen Kane. Did it happen that way? Only a few can tell. Could it happen again? Damn right it could.

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5 Comments


  1. Chris, 9 years ago Reply

    The substance and style actually reminded me of an earlier HBO film, “The Late Shift,” focused on the Leno/Letterman powershift… and not just because Bob Balaban was playing the same character (doesn’t he always? Good job, but won’t be remembered for his range.)

    Intrigue, deception, ineptitude, and more than a few “are you kidding me?” moments.

    Both films seem to make the point that in the end it’s not the numbers that make a difference. Decisions that matter to millions are decided by personal whimsy and are usually driven by fear.


  2. Norm Schrager, 9 years ago Reply

    - Chris –

    I’m a huge fan of The Late Shift — I’ve seen it three or four times — and never made the connection, but you’re right.

    Bob Balaban’s presence is kinda funny in this movie since he is a raging, softie liberal in real life.

    It was fascinating to see how one person after another, one at a time, set an entire national election on its ass. You can forget “mob rules.” That only works if the mob has cash and power.

    As for your comments about personal whimsy, you’re so right. Watch how people vote in November…

    -Norm S. (Meet In the Lobby)


  3. joey, 9 years ago Reply

    i think you are dead on norm. all i know is the rerun kept me up untill 3am on sunday.


  4. Norm Schrager, 9 years ago Reply

    - joey –

    Thanks for the compliment. As frustrating as the real-life situation was, the movie was pretty fun to watch.

    -Norm


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