I cannot remember any moment more intensely (or angrily) political than the present. Politics has all but devoured the world of comedy — witness the almost mythic status of Tina Fey’s routines on Sarah Palin. Any discourse on mortgages, investments or even groceries is quickly strangled by ideology.
After the failure of several Iraq movies last year, it was decreed that political movies were a thing of the past. Glance at the release schedule and you quickly learn that’s not true. If anything, political movies have become even more, well, political.
“Body of Lies” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe is a ferocious discourse on the CIA’s screwups in the Middle East. “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” dares to view the Auschwitz nightmare through the eyes of an 8-year-old.
Last week I saw Oliver Stone’s “W.,” an engrossing film which reminds us that the man who made “Platoon” hasn’t lost his edge. Part polemic, and part parody, “W.” explores the love-hate relationship between George Bush senior and junior. It culminates in a devastating (and imagined) scene in which Bush senior all but implodes in parental rage, declaring that, thanks to junior, no Bush will ever again be elected to public office.
“W.” opens Oct. 17, a week after “Body of Lies.” The Sean Penn starrer “Milk,” another political biopic, will face similar challenges when opening Nov. 26.
The case against Junior in the film is pinned to Iraq — indeed it is W’s handling of the war that finally sends Senior over the top — but the president’s utter helplessness in the face of the present collapse serves as a vivid postscript. The Bush dynasty is all about money and power — economic upheaval is not an acceptable option.
In first announcing his film, Stone stressed, “I have empathy for Bush … I want to give a fair, true portrait of the man.” The filmmaker has strong credentials for doing a biopic , having delivered portraits of Nixon, Jim Morrison, JFK and Alexander the Great, among others.
I doubt if Bush’s admirers, those that remain, would affirm Stone’s claim to objectivity, however. His portrait of the president is that of a smug, self-righteous and uniquely stubborn Ivy Leaguer-turned-Texan who believes he has direct access to Godly wisdom.
Political movies occupy a proud tradition in American film, going back to Preston Sturges’ satires (“Sullivan’s Travels”) to nuclear polemics (“Silkwood,” “The China Syndrome”) to the political paranoia genre (“Parallax View”).
The new iteration — Steven Soderbergh’s “Che,” for example — seems angrier and more intensely ideological, representing a throwback to the ’60s work of Pontecorvo and Costa-Gavras. Oliver Stone would not resent that sort of company. And his film will probably stir that level of wrath.
Indeed, on the crowded weekends of October, there may be lots of wrath to spread around.