For today’s first review of The American President (1995), here’s S.G. Liput of A Movie List: 365 Films in a Year. Not only does he have a review for us, but also a poem about the movie.
President Andrew Shepherd’s content;
Approval’s at 63 percent.
A bill for gun (or crime) control
Will serve as his deciding goal
To win him reelection.
And yet, moving on from a widower’s fate,
He jumps at the chance for a Washington date.
Awkward encounters soon persuade
The lobbyist Sidney Ellen Wade
To match his plain affection.
Wade hangs on a promise politically made,
That Shepherd will offer a bill his full aid.
Meanwhile, a senator is quick
To target Shepherd’s latest pick
With character attacks.
Since romance is personal, Shepherd won’t budge;
‘Tis not for the public to slander and judge.
Yet his approval starts to drop,
Until his only hope’s to stop
The bill that Sidney backs.
Decisions of office are never of ease,
And Shepherd must now decide whom he will please.
Lest politics remain charades,
His principles return in spades,
For love need not prevent
The sitting President.
Number of time seen: 1 (Feb. 8, 2015)
Fresh from finishing my top 365 movie list, full of films I’ve seen and enjoyed, I decided to review one that I’d never seen before, The American President (and many thanks to MovieRob for suggesting Rob Reiner’s filmography from which to select).
Michael Douglas is an outstanding movie President, one who actually possesses that presidential swagger rather than simply being supplied the title by the script. As the film depicts his day-to-day operations, shifting effortlessly between meetings and conversations with his feverish staff, he displays a deep yet approachable calm and a superiority that never comes off as condescending. In many ways, he acts as we expect a national leader to act, able to make tough decisions while not becoming jaded to the sometimes deadly but necessary results. Annette Bening also excels as his love interest, Sydney Ellen Wade, who again balances serious professionalism with an occasionally giddy romantic side. Among the excellent supporting cast are Martin Sheen as cautious Chief of Staff A.J., Michael J. Fox as excitable speechwriter Lewis, and Richard Dreyfuss as shameless political rival Senator Rumson.
Though I never watched the series, it’s interesting to note the film’s many links to the NBC drama “The West Wing,” mainly due to its creator Aaron Sorkin, who was the screenwriter for The American President. After having already worked with Rob Reiner on A Few Good Men, Sorkin delivered his acclaimed dialogue to both the 1995 film and The West Wing, which followed four years later. The series promoted Martin Sheen from Chief of Staff to President Josiah Bartlett and employed the same expansive White House set, allowing for Sorkin’s famed “walk and talk” scenes to provide activity and visual interest for long conversations among multiple people. Sorkin supposedly used deleted material from the film in the series’ first season and employed similar political machinations and ideologies as in Reiner’s film.
Despite all the praise the film deserves on some points, as a conservative, I must point out that it is very much a liberal film about liberal policies made by liberal people. While political verbal maneuvering is demonstrated in “gun control” being rechristened “crime control,” the film and characters are clearly of the mind that they are one and the same; also, the ultra-progressive ACLU is lauded, and Bening gets to parrot the same tired talking points about greenhouse gases and climate change. Also, though the chemistry between Shepherd and Wade is evident, their sexual rendezvous are handled poorly in a political sense. As high profile as the President is, there must be ways to better hide an affair instead of practically flaunting its reality in the face of the paparazzi and inevitably raising concerns over the President’s personal morality. (One could ask many past Presidents.)
The film’s conclusion highlights, yet largely ignores, one such complication. While Shepherd’s climactic speech has all the earmarks of a cheer-worthy zinger and his return to his liberal principles is rather admirable, it is hard to distinguish how his bold legislative move should be viewed. Of course, it’s meant to be a return to form, Wade having helped him get his priorities straight; yet it might also be seen as a lobbyist using her personal relationship with the President to convince him to yield to her beliefs or certainly lose her. The fact that she had already lost her job tempers that last point, but she still got her way, so its relevance is still debatable.
While I prefer Dave as far as political romances go and it falls in the middle of Reiner’s varying filmography (not matching my favorites The Princess Bride or When Harry Met Sally… but far better than his lesser efforts), The American President is nonetheless a fine film that reminds us that our leaders are human too. Capturing the difficult demands and entanglements of politics, it manages to be highly entertaining and romantic, liberal point of view aside. It’s not quite worthy of my list but is well worth watching.
Best line: (Lewis Rothschild) “People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it, they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”
VC’s best line: (A.J.) “The President doesn’t answer to you, Lewis!” (Lewis) “Oh, yes, he does, A.J. I’m a citizen; this is my President. And in this country, it is not only permissible to question our leaders, it’s our responsibility!”
My Ranking: List Runner-Up
MovieRob-style Ranking: Globe Worthy
© 2015 S. G. Liput