Before there was West Wing or Spin City there was The American President, written by Aaron Sorkin, and directed by Rob Reiner. Michael Douglas stars as Andrew Shepherd – the most likable fictional president ever put on film. Shepherd’s got his hands full: Not only is he fighting for reelection, he’s also struggling to push a couple of controversial bills through congress, and on top of that he’s just a regular single father. When Shepherd falls in love with lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening) he opens a can of worms, putting his entire staff on high alert, and his job on the line. But what’s most important? Love or being the president?
Leave it to Aaron Sorkin to write a film that manages to be both a fairytale, and a political drama. A film that attacks the media, defined by the lowest common denominator, while engaging in a fairly simplistic boy-meets-girl love story. A film that praises the American democracy, as the defining symbol of modern civilization, while ruthlessly exposing it’s weaknesses.
The American President walks a fine line between drama and comedy, but by some miracle it’s equally comfortable doing both. It’s hard to image that a film can encompass both a scene where the president tries to perform the simple romantic gesture of buying flowers, and a scene where he’s forced to order an attack that will obliterate the HQ of Libyan Intelligence.
The romantic part of the story centers around two strong performances from Annette Bening and Michael Douglas. Douglas is simply magical as the commander-in-chief – he looks like an old-school film star! Just look at him, when he delivers that final speech! It’s hard not to jump out of your chair and race for the closest voting booth. The all-star cast provides solid support, while delivering that fast, intelligent dialogue, which flows like honey, with perfect comedic timing.
The political portion of the story is what lifts The American President above the rest, even though it doesn’t exactly paint a realistic picture of how the political arena works. This is the kind of film that preaches political aptitude and moral awareness, by presenting an idealized, inspiring image. And unlike the works of, for example, writer-director Rod Lurie, it does so without being condescending or overly naive.
Audio & Video:
Another Warner catalogue title makes it to Blu-ray without much fanfare.
The film has a pleasing look, and the image is both sharp and colorful, but often there’s a little too much grain for my taste. In some shots even colored walls are buzzing with noise, too much to just write it off as a sign of age.
The soundtrack of this very talky film is nice and crisp, but it’s not a showroom track, except when the gorgeous, patriotic score soars like an eagle.
This region free disc contains only a trailer.
Sure, The American President takes place in a utopia, where real issues will win the day over mudslinging, and where candidates say what they mean, not what will get them elected, but what’s wrong with that? As we once again find ourselves in the middle of that three-ringed circus known as an election, it’s nice to be able to escape into this perfect, fictional world. The American President does deal with the hypocrisy of modern democracy, but it can also be watched as a simple, beautiful romance, without paying any attention to the fact that the real villain of the piece is actually the American public.
Extra Features: F