Tuesday, May 27, 2008
For those who sat through Election Day 2000 returns which spilled over into the wee hours, and just finally went to bed confused; for those who breathlessly checked updates in the rollercoaster month that followed the contested Florida election; for those who were left feeling duped, disappointed, outraged, convinced that democracy had ground to halt or whatever -- for all of those bruised spectators, sitting through a two-hour re-cap of those events seems to be asking a lot.
But Recount, the HBO move that premiered over the weekend, is pretty entertaining despite its roots in electoral horror. (Subscribers can catch endless repeats or grab it off OnDemand; others can wait for the inevitable DVD.)
The film is that odd bird -- a talking-head, policy-wonk-friendly, real-life comedy-slash-docudrama-slash-post-mortem. And yeah, it'll still cause Democrats some pain by pulling the Band-Aid off a presumed-healed wound or two, and will have armchair pundits blithering about what the Bush victory (see also: "victory") has meant for the last eight years.
But Recount is also amiably paced, and funny. There's the odd wry comment for chuckles, but taken as a whole, what can you do now but laugh? Florida 2000 was insane: Condensed down to a two-hour précis, you'll marvel that this actually happened, that it's not a made-up piece of poli-sci-fi.
This episode of political reality is directed by Jay Roach, who has such serious features as the Austin Powers series and Meet the Parents under his hipster belt. It boasts a big ensemble cast, from respectable thespians such as Kevin Spacey and Laura Dern, to comic actors including Denis Leary, Ed Begley Jr. and Bob Balaban. (I laugh just seeing Balaban; it's Pavlovian).
Amusingly -- for the members of the Legion of Lou Dobbs -- Recount outsources the role of each side's top lawyers to foreigners: Tom Wilkinson plays Republican James Baker, and John Hurt is Dem heavyweight Warren Christopher.
Recount flips back and forth between the opposing camps' strategy sessions and hastily filed lawsuits, with plenty of actual filler provided by archival TV clips. (Here I marveled at how much CNN has changed from hard news to today's personality-driven fluff: Where are the Bernie Shaws of yesteryear?)
Thus, the story aims to be non-partisan, but because the Dems were the aggrieved party, the default narrative structure tends to make their struggles read more heroic. And whether the Reps play offense or defense, their moves are cast as obstacles for the plucky Dems to overcome.
That said, any seasoned political observer will note that shrinking the whole month-long psychodrama to two hours helps illuminate the strategic miscalculations and outright mistakes that may have cost the Democrats the fight. (As well as ceasing to instruct: Not hitting back hard out of some misplaced sense of gentleman's politics later left Kerry floundering against Bush in 2004.)
Among the fun of Recount is its unearthing of nuggets of head-scratching news you've long forgot about: Al Gore taking back his concession phone call to Bush ("there's no need to get snippy") SoreLoserman (see also, dumb-ass Lieberman); the frat-boy "protest" (when the right co-opts the political theater of the left, it's all over); the crazy media circus that stranded all the networks' top political experts in Tallahassee, with sides trips to bizarrely named Florida counties; and of course, the lowly nobody forced into the white-hot heat of the media glare: the chad and his ne'er-do-well siblings, hanging and dimpled.
And you know what they say about history: It just repeats itself. Today, the Democratic primary is contested, mucked up by more disputed votes in Florida, and pending a resolution by a bunch of wonks that will likely please no one. Except maybe a screenwriter.