Political junkies will relish the bare-knuckled brouhaha of this true-life David-and-Goliath story, yet there’s an off-putting calculation to the backroom Missouri politics in “Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?” Pic was selected aud favorite at the recently-wrapped SilverDocs fest, but that may have had more to do with event’s proximity to Washington, D.C., than the docu’s commercial prospects. Fest and tube campaigns appear most appropriate.
In 2004, when Dick Gephardt announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate, idealistic teacher Jeff Smith was one of 10 candidates to throw his hat in the ring. An energetic progressive who never met a door he couldn’t rap, Smith, who looks like a young Kevin Costner, assembled a team of neophytes and a grassroots strategy to topple leading contender Russ Carnahan, from the regional political machine. Although the outcome is public record, pic is undeniably gripping as it reveals a distressing degree of voter complacency. Frosh helmer Frank Popper’s prescient camera catches the campaign’s mood including a last-minute air of desperation that tarnishes Smith’s underdog glow. “I’m still young,” one staffer sighed in defeat, “I’ll wait before I become a little more cynical.”