The title alone should alert auds that “The Big Buy: Tom DeLay’s Stolen Congress” is a hatchet job on the controversial politico known as “The Hammer.” Muckraking doc doubtless will be dismissed out of hand (in some cases, without actually being seen) by right-leaning critics and commentators. On the other side of the political divide, however, the pic will preach to the converted through limited theatrical exposure, homevid sell-through, and private screenings by various activist groups. Grassroots release is being handled by Brave New Films, the distrib founded by maverick producer Robert Greenwald (“Outfoxed”).
Documakers Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck methodically assemble a damning case against U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, the pugnacious Texas Republican and former House majority leader who has been indicted on campaign fund-raising charges.
Chief asset of the pic is its easy-to-grasp explanation of his alleged crime: DeLay (who, not surprisingly, refused to be interviewed by the filmmakers) is charged with breaking a Texas law that prohibits corporate donations to individual candidates.
Specifically, DeLay stands accused of using the Republican National Committee to more or less launder contributions from companies as diverse as Bacardi USA and Sears Roebuck so GOP candidates for the Texas Legislature could receive funding during the 2002 election, then, with a Republican majority, radically redraw district boundaries to facilitate the election of Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004.
Interviewees include syndicated columnist Molly Ivins and populist commentator Jim Hightower, veterans of several other docs that view Texas politics as a contact sport. But the real star of the pic clearly is folksy Democratic D.A. Ronnie Earle, who comes off as sincerely aggrieved, if a tad self-righteous, while sounding personally offended by political corruption.
Vaguely malevolent images of DeLay are superimposed on billboards and sides of buildings as Birnbaum and Schermbeck make little effort to disguise their distaste for their titular subject.
Even so, the scrappy small-budget pic remains persuasive throughout, and occasionally offers “Gotcha!” moments that are laugh-out-loud funny. Chief among the highlights: a CNN interview in which DeLay, mildly pressed by Wolf Blitzer, quickly backs away from his claim that Earle’s investigation has been supported (if not mandated) by the Democratic National Committee.
Docu was well into production long before DeLay’s April 4 announcement that he will not seek re-election — and, indeed, will resign his House seat — but includes this and other up-to-date info in a smoothly incorporated coda.
Artful use of B&W footage and a jazzy score by John Bryant and Frank Hames enhance the pic’s noirish flavor.