Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Recount Review

Having fallen well behind on my reviews the process starts again with somewhat briefer takes on the films I've seen recently.

I was a bit reluctant to watch Recount because the dilemmas arising from its subject matter are still far too fresh and relevant. The frustration is still too present in my day-to-day life. But I found it to be an extremely enjoyable, and even exciting, take on Gore v. Bush.

Structured so as to focus primarily on the legal battle on Gore's side of the spectrum (though not short-shrifting the Bush side), I found Recount's ability to make well-known material feel fresh, tense and exciting. Even more surprising is that Recount comes from Jay Roach who is known mainly for the Meet the Parents and Austin Powers series. Roach benefits from a surprisingly large number of strong performances.

Tom Wilkinson, fresh off success in HBO's other big project the first half of this year, John Adams, does a good job humanizing and bringing to life head Bush employee James Baker. Roach allows the performance to work so that Wilkinson comes off as far more than the snearing villain the role could have devolved into. Laura Dern is, as usual, superb. Here she wonderfully mimics the all too memorable over-her-head mannerisms of Floridian decision maker Katherine Harris.

On the Gore side three performances in particular standout. Kevin Spacey does his best work in years as Ron Klain, head of the Gore campaign's efforts. Like so many of the actors here his character feels real. Denis Leary brings life to his scenes as foul-mouthed campaigner worker Michael Whouley, though, let's be fair, the role isn't really a stretch from Tommy Gavin on Rescue Me. I think special notice should go to Ed Begley Jr, playing the lead attorney, David Boies, for Gore who actually argues Gore v. Bush before the Supreme Court. The character could easily have felt like a walking cliche, yet somehow Begley manages to make Boies feel both real and inspiring. His speech before the Supreme Court is one of the better speeches I've seen in a film this year.

In terms of drawbacks I felt the film's dispersed focus harms it in the early portions. There are numerous characters and plotlines and I found the film didn't quite find it's stride until it began to focus in, perhaps thirty or forty minutes into the running time. Regardless I was impressed at how well Roach manage to juggle such a complex detail orientated plot. Perhaps there is some left-leaning bias, but regardless, I think Recount is a damn compelling recreation of the legal battle surrounding the 2000 election.

Overall Score: 8/10

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