Isn’t everyone glad this election cycle is over? Well, some people aren’t but it is what it is at this point. For the majority for us, though, we can begin to move on and hopefully start to cooperate again. In the meantime, the political sphere has long been a genre of film Hollywood has hoped to renew every few years and in remembrance of one of the more contentious election years finally coming to an end, let’s look at a group of political movies that’ll help distract you from further shenanigans and give you something to discuss with your weird relatives at any upcoming dinners.
Tom Hanks has managed to cultivate a career out of being America’s dad and all-around loveable man but in 2007, he ventured into a moral gray area while playing infamous Congressman Charlie Wilson from Texas in the film Charlie Wilson’s War. The film tells the real-life story of Operation Cyclone, the CIA’s covert effort to wage a proxy war against the Soviets after they invaded Afghanistan. Throughout the annals of history, the CIA has become a sort of bungling boogeyman having orchestrated coups in Guatemala, Venezuela, and Iran, as well as mishandling the Bay of Pigs invasion, but this film details one of the few successes the Agency has been able to hang their hat on. Charlie Wilson’s War boasts an all-star cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Ned Beatty, and Emily Blunt, but at the forefront of this cast is Tom Hanks’ Charlie Wilson. As Wilson points out in the film “I represent the only district in America that doesn’t want anything” and so he’s looking for a cause to crusade.
This is where the Soviets come in, having recently invaded Afghanistan and Charlie realizing that he’s in a unique position to fight back and deliver a death blow to the Soviets and end the Cold War. Thanks to the assistance of Philip Seymour Hoffman who delivers an Oscar-nominated performance as a veteran CIA agent and Julia Roberts, a well-connected Texas socialite, they are able to bring together a strange alchemy of unlikely alliances and escalate the war to the point of the Soviets surrendering and leaving the country. The success of Operation Cyclone, as well as the Chernobyl disaster, are the nails in the coffin of the Soviet Union but the film perfectly notes at the “These things were great and they changed the world but we f***** up the endgame” directly saying that the CIA used the Afghan soldiers to win a war on our behalf but we did not do anything to fix their country, repair roads, build schools and install a new government. The film serves as a reminder that while we do live in the most powerful country on the planet, we can be unaware of those we leave behind in our unintentional carnage.
All the President’s Men
For many, this is the definitive political movie of the most infamous political scandal of the 20th Century, the Watergate break-in. I’ll spare the majority of the details of the scandal but the gist of it is that Cuban nationals, under the direction of the President and the CIA, broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel and President Nixon, thanks to the recording system he installed in the Oval Office, incriminated himself into covering up the crime. The movie details the investigation of the break-in by Washington Post reports Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and features another all-star cast of Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards (who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Ben Bradlee), and Hal Holbrook who plays the mysterious informant Deep Throat.
All the President’s Men is tense for the entire runtime as Woodward and Bernstein run down leads all over the country, organize late-night rendezvous, monitor their phone conversations, and follow the money. Robards has the responsibility of protecting his reporters even as their lives are under threat but his ultimate responsibility is to inform the truth, pressing Woodward and Bernstein to carry on with their reporting even when Nixon is re-elected. Even though we are aware of the outcome of the investigation and Nixon’s resignation, this doesn’t stop the film from being tense and engaging. The freedom of the press is a right that’s guaranteed in our Constitution and while we may be living in an era of “fake news”, we can still count on them to deliver the truth.
Make no mistake, this is absolutely a political thriller: the mystery, the unraveling of an ongoing conspiracy, the search for truth and, ultimately, a reckoning. In the age of surveillance, this political movie became more relevant following revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden of the NSA’s extensive surveillance programs on the citizens of the United States. What better hero to tackle a pseudo-real-world issue than Captain America?
In this case, Captain Rogers swaps a laptop for a shield and gets to the bottom of an insidious conspiracy to eliminate anyone who may be considered too good or righteous to acquiesce to a new world order. The film manages to combine several popular conspiracy theories such as the broad and wide-ranging surveillance and the presence of a group that desires to bring about a new world order. The Winter Soldier was released in the relatively early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is still considered one of the best films in the entire series.
Let’s go back to America’s most turbulent time, the Civil War, and the struggle to abolish slavery and to pass the 13th Amendment in the waning months of the destructive, bloody conflict. While other films set during the Civil War like Gone with the Wind, portray the period with an odd longing, Steven Spielberg’s epic film pulls no punches. Lincoln is both a war film and a political film and while there is really one scene where we see actual fighting, there is a scene where President Lincoln visits a war hospital with his eldest son to serve as a reminder that while a desire to fight is noble, it will always come with a cost. If you’re looking for the best political movies featuring Daniel Day-Lewis, the actor plays the role of Lincoln exactly how every school child has imagined him speaking, sitting, and his general manner of behaving. The highlights of the film are Lincoln’s stories. It was noted by several individuals in Lincoln’s circle that he was a master storyteller and had a flair for comedic timing.
These stories often come during rather tense moments of the film while the machinations of the political machine are turning as Lincoln’s operatives are working to secure enough votes for the amendment’s passage. However, the absolute best moment of the film comes at the very beginning, or what I refer to as the prologue, as Lincoln is conversing with two black Union soldiers. While it’s easy to view this conversation as a President with his subordinates, it’s more like three men just shooting the breeze and getting to know each other but the conversation is interrupted by two fanboy soldiers who remind Lincoln of the speech he gave now known as the Gettysburg Address whose final words are “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. The prologue, and this portion of the speech, not only set up the struggle of the film but serves as a call to all of us to fight for our democracy and that our democracy needs to be representative of who we are as a country and that when we work together, we can achieve a future that will not perish from the earth.
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Featured Image Credit: All the Presidents Men Screengrab