“Recount” creates a time and place that seems both far, far away and too close for comfort.
The film makes the year 2000 seem light years away in just one line:
“Anybody ever heard of a hanging chad?”
But at the same time, HBO’s made-for-TV-movie about the weeks surrounding the 2000 U.S. presidential election magnifies how screwed up our system may really be. And with another historical election just around the bend, this quirky film couldn’t be more timely.
The film begins when the votes were rolling in, and through a nice montage of actual news footage, we are brought through the rollercoaster as Al Gore is declared the winner. Then the news media takes it back. Then George W. Bush is declared the winner. Then the news media takes that back, too.
And then all eyes turn to Florida. Kevin Spacey plays Ron Klain, who heads up the fight for the Democrats. Klain has the underdog story in his corner, as he was taken for granted by Gore’s group in previous years, but still decides to fight for his leader because he truly believes that Gore won. For the Republicans, James Baker (Tom Wilkinson) takes the reins.
The rest, as they say, is history, so there’s no need to really go into the plot. The story goes through all the ups and downs, protests, the recounts and the fights in state and federal supreme court.
Director Jay Roach (of the Austin Powers movies) succeeds because he makes politicians and lawyers into real people through the details. They make mistakes. They take Latin classes. They spill ice cream on the kitchen counter. There are some really subtle funny moments thrown into the drama and the film is stronger for it.
One of the best characters is Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (Laura Dern) who at first seems too exaggerated to be a real person, but then becomes one of the easiest to believe, a striking resemblance to the real thing (garish makeup and horse riding included).
Sometimes, the creators have a little too much fun with editing tricks. The parallels become a tad too obvious. When one camp says one thing and the other says the opposite, it’s funny the first time, but gets old like any hat trick.
Apparently, the real guys behind Gore’s campaign are pretty upset about the film, according to news reports. And they probably should be—they don’t come of as the smartest guys in the room. Warren Christopher (John Hurt), the former secretary of state who led the Gore campaign seems out-of-tune with the real world of politics and a little delusional.
This movie is big enough for the big screen, but will only be shown on HBO. The most striking point made by the film is that the election system of the U.S. is just a big mess. And in 2000, it resembled more of a circus than a system. Instead of being about the people’s vote, it became about how liberal a judge is, or how silly a protester can dress, or if a dimpled chad should be counted.
The tale is more twisted than any fiction writer could ever dream up. And we all know how it ended. We all know who won and who lost that year. We all know how much the world has changed since.
So what does “Recount” tell us, as the dawn of the next election grows near? Politics is screwy. And so are politicians. We can only hope that this year things do go as awry.
Recount will debut on HBO on May 25, 2008 at 9 pm.