starring Jeff Bridges, Gary Oldman, Joan Allen, Sam Elliott, Christian Slater, William Petersen and Mariel Hemingway
written and directed by Rod Lurie
This is a timely and thought-provoking contemporary film. I think it was written and made especially with a mind for ht travails of former American President Bill Clinton in mind - and the personality flaws that almost spelled his political destruction. The film deals with the sensitive issue of a woman being named by the American President (Jeff Bridges) as a candidate for the recently-vacated Vice Presidency, only to be opposed and openly resisted by conservative politicians who rue the idea of a woman n the executive, and then even stoop to criminal fraud to stop her ascension. Why should American conservatives resist a woman in the highest reaches of the American government? I don’t know.
British actor Gary Oldman has a knack for playing seedy, grotesque characters, and he does so here again as Senator Shelly Runyon who sill stop at nothing, practically to dirty the reputation of the candidate, Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen). The comparisons of his character and his character’s behavior with the real-life Senator Joseph McCarhty who led the disgraceful House Un-American Activities investigations several decades ago is unavoidable. Those U.S. government-led raping campaigns against the integrity and privacy of citizens came at the height of the cold War ‘Red Scare.’ (By the way, Oldman is also an executive producer of this movie, if that helps shed light on his role in it.)
It seems that nothing in America can kill a political career like a sex scandal can. And so, it is through rumor and innuendo of sexual deviance that Senator Runyon tries to scuttle Senator Hanson. It is here that we find the comparisons to Bill Clinton, his personality and behavior. (Incidentally, in Europe, especially France, where a different, less Puritanical attitude towards sex and sexuality prevails, as well as a different and stricter approach to the question of privacy, sex scandals and perceived as a kind of American vice. Many years ago when it was discovered that former French President Francois Mitterrand had fathered a daughter by his mistress his response about the matter to a questioning journalist was merely,“So what?” What would immediately destroy the career of an American president was a mere nothing to the French President.)
The closer Senator Hanson gets to the White House (surviving a Senate sub-committee investigation) the more outrageous become the accusations of sexual deviance against her. Videotapes of intimate behavior are produced, said to be videos of the senator when she was a (wild) college student, but failing to show a clearly-recognizable face. Former classmates and acquaintances are interviewed on television confirming damning stories. But throughout the trial by media Senator Hanson remains silent on the sexual issues thrown up around her candidacy, saying only that she has no comment, or that she will hold back her comments only until a later date.
The situation is maddening, in a way, because most people’s feeling would be to immediately deny the rumors and, if the rumors are indeed false, to counter attack with the evidence. And then the lawsuits. This is the advice urged upon the Vice Presidential candidate by her staff, by the President, and by the President’s advisers. But Senator Hanson’s position is the seemingly ridiculous and unsustainable one that questions about her sex life are private and so do not warrant a response. They ought not to be posed in the first place. In the end wee find out that the dirt dug up on her is all false and that her stubbornness was, in fact, justified. But at the time we can only grieve, “What fools!”
Hanson’s reason is a sound one that nevertheless sounds foolish to the jaded types who make the Washington Beltway their whole lives. Her privacy is a personal principle, and principles mean nothing if one only professes them when it is convenient to do so. The principles that count are the ones that a person maintains even when it becomes very inconvenient to do so. Amen, sister.