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Recount (review)

Dirty Fight

I was pretty excited to check out HBO’s new original film Recount partly because, you know, amazing cast: Kevin Spacey, Denis Leary, Laura Dern, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson. But also because I love having raw wounds ripped open, like the one that smarts every day when I see the smoking ruin that is America in 2008 and wonder, Geez, how different would things be if Al Gore had been president these last eight years?
Recount — debuting on HBO on Sunday, May 25, at 9pm Eastern — isn’t an alternate-universe fantasy that explores that scenario: no, it’s just pouring salt in the jagged festering sore that the fiasco of the 2000 presidental election remains. Not that that’s a bad thing. It just doesn’t make for the most entertaining Memorial Day entertainment. But maybe we’ve had enough of bread and circuses these days and could use a reminder of how bizarrely off-track we’ve gotten since those 36 days in late 2000 when butterfly ballots and hanging chads and purged voters and and dueling judges were all the rage. Remember the fun?

Do you want to relive this? Recount is smart and snappy and more than a little nasty — though maybe that’s appropriate — and there is, at least, enjoyment to be found in the all-around fantastic performances. Spacey is a snarly puppy as the former chief of staff to VP Gore who’s worked like a dog on the presidential campaign yet been passed over should a Gore White House come to be, and then he morphs into a bulldog when the fight over the election moves into full swing. Leary is his usual wonderfully foul-mouthed self as a Gore honcho, except here his splendid vulgarity seems extra pertinent (you’ll be swearing along with him). Dern is an absolute hoot as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a big fish in a little pond relishing the sudden global attention fixed on her — she can’t help but approach reporters like she’s a rock star holding court, and not with any kind of solemnity the situation would seem to require.

What can we do about fixing things so this doesn’t happen again? Recount doesn’t offer any answers, except in the subtext: Look at what cheaters the Republicans are! Forget about who actually garnered more votes than the other (though the Republican-backed voter-purge thing is pretty blatant in that regard) — the Republicans don’t want to play fair when it comes to the recount. Wilkinson as James Baker, on the Bush side, calls the whole disaster “a street fight for the presidency of the United States,” while for the Democrats, there’s Hurt’s Warren Christopher saying exactly the opposite. As Leary says, “We can’t play a gentleman’s game here or we’re gonna fuckin’ lose” — and, hello, look what happened.

Which isn’t to suggest that fighting dirty is the way to win. Unless you want to win by losing everything else. That’s the most depressing thing about Recount: a beautiful illustration of an ugly and impossible situation is still ugly.

MPAA: rated TV-MA

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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  • ohplease

    John F. Kennedy, Chicago, 1960.

    How different would the world have been if Kennedy hadn’t stolen that election from Nixon?

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t know about 1960, but even if what you suggest is true, that justifies 2000? Because someone did something wrong once, that means it’s okay for someone else to do the same in the future?

  • ohplease

    Of course not. But it’s hypocritical as hell for Democrats to complain about what happened in 2000 given what happened in 1960.

    And what happened in 1960 is much more egregious than what happened in 2000. In 1960, Kennedy won Illinois and therefore the Presidential election because DEAD PEOPLE, thousands of them, voted for him. What happened in 2000 wasn’t organized before the election like 1960 was; what happened in 2000 was people working circumstances that happened to arise spontaneously, not a conspiracy to rig and steal an election like Kennedy did.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m sorry, but purging voters from voting rolls did not happen “spontaneously.” It was absolutely “organized.” At a minimum.

    Hypocritical? It’s hypocritical to complain about something that happened recently because something else happened a generation and a half ago? Are you serious?

  • Mick

    Just goes to show you. Even a dead person had better sense than to vote for Richard Nixon.

  • Jim Mann

    Wow, the logic of some of your responders is amazing. If democrats did something wrong in 1960, they can’t criticize republicans in 2000.

    This same logic leads is what drives the folks who say things like “how dare Americans criticize human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia/Iran/Afghanistan/wherever because Americans mistreated native Americans/owned slaves 150 years ago/etc.”

    If ones predecessors doing something wrong in the past preclude us from speaking out on wrongs done now, none of us can criticize anything.

    Jim

  • bitchen frizzy

    It’s not just that they criticize, it’s that they do so with a pretense of being “shocked! Shocked!” that such things go in in elections, as though it’s something new that Republicans invented.

  • MaryAnn

    In the 2000 election in Florida, there’s no question that the Republicans played dirty while the Democrats did not.

  • bitchen frizzy

    There’s no question in your mind.

    You’re comfortable with the simple “Democrats=all that’s good/Republicans=evil” worldview, so this movie’s for you.

    They both play dirty. Most people accept that, which is why they think movies that show Democrats wearing halos and Republicans wearing horns are hypocritical and not very realistic. It’s unfortunate, because a lot of rotten dirty stuff happened in Florida and the story’s well worth telling.

  • MaryAnn

    It’s not a matter of it being a question in my mind: it’s a matter of the facts. I did not use words like “good” and “evil,” and I did not suggest that this movie shows anyone wearing halos or horns. Why not check it out for yourself and see?

  • Paul

    If Kennedy cheating justifies Bush cheating, what does Bush’s brother using the Highway Patrol to divert black voters justify? Good government is supposed to get better, not worse. When government starts getting worse instead of better, you get the slow and steady decline anyone who has read history is familiair with. Sometimes I think if Bush had been smarter, he would have been the Augustus to Reagan’s Julius Caesar in the annals of American democracy. Maybe he still will be, if McCain enshines Bush’s policies.

    I have to admit I’m sometimes tempted to label Republicans as “evil,” but when Bush floated the idea of suspending elections in 2004, a bunch of Republican senators went to the White House and squashed that idea so fast it was only in the news for one cycle. There is still some honor to be had in their ranks.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Well, I can’t, because I don’t have HBO.

    I had to take your word for it: “Recount doesn’t offer any answers, except in the subtext: Look at what cheaters the Republicans are!” If that’s a premise of the movie – the solution to election fraud is to keep those cheating Republicans in line – then it will be met with skepticism, which is unfortunate.

    Does the movie have an anti-Republican political bias that factors into the premise? If it does, then that taints the message, because most people don’t believe that the Democrats are any better, or that they played a “gentlemen’s game” in 2000 or any other year.

  • bitchen frizzy

    “When government starts getting worse instead of better…”

    When it comes to dirty politics in elections, the government isn’t getting worse.

    That’s the flawed premise.

    This sort of stuff is not new to U.S. politics, and it isn’t exclusive to Republicans.

  • http://www.clayj.com Clayj

    I watched Recount this weekend. Like bitchen, I agree that both sides played dirty. In this particular case, the Republicans played dirty better. In previous elections, as “ohplease” pointed out, it’s clear that the Democrats played dirty better.

    But as James Baker says at the end, What matters is that the system worked. There were no tanks in the street, no declaration of martial law, no Bill Clinton remaining in office past January 20th. We had the same peaceful change of leadership that we have every four or eight years, and the nation kept on going.

    What really makes me sad is when Americans equate George W. Bush with Adolf Hitler. Hyperbole on that scale is intellectually dishonest as hell and it’s uncalled for even if you don’t agree with the man and his policies. People seem to forget that every elected official, from the President on down, swears an oath not to defend the President, or the nation, or any particular philosophy, but to defend the Constitution. And when their time’s up, it’s up. As much as certain people don’t like the current President, or the one before him, the difference between us and places like Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, and yes, even pre-war Iraq is that we KNOW that the President’s time in office is strictly limited.

  • MaryAnn

    I had to take your word for it: “Recount doesn’t offer any answers, except in the subtext: Look at what cheaters the Republicans are!” If that’s a premise of the movie…

    That’s the reality. If the truth has a “liberal bias,” well, whose fault is that?

    People seem to forget that every elected official, from the President on down, swears an oath not to defend the President, or the nation, or any particular philosophy, but to defend the Constitution.

    Oh, people have not forgotten this. They’ve seen this president trash the Constitution at every opportunity. He has NOT fulfilled his oath of office — he has broken it numerous times.

  • paul

    Which shouldn’t come as any great surprise. When Oliver North broke his oath to uphold the Constitution, 90% of the military’s officer corp thought he should have gone to prison (which I learned at a panel of officers from every branch touring colleges to do damage control to the military’s reputation), but the GOP ran him for political office instead. That’s the party we’ve entrusted our freedoms to.

  • recount

    “But as James Baker says at the end, What matters is that the system worked. There were no tanks in the street, no declaration of martial law, no Bill Clinton remaining in office past January 20th. We had the same peaceful change of leadership that we have every four or eight years, and the nation kept on going.”

    Are you kidding? System failed – if the system worked, then every vote would have been counted. Just because there wasn’t overt violence for the most part, doesn’t mean there wasn’t any other kind of brutality such as voter-purging, racism, cheating, whatever. The exchange was far from being “peaceful.” Wake up.

  • bitchen frizzy

    –’That’s the reality. If the truth has a “liberal bias,” well, whose fault is that?’

    “The sun rises in the east,” is also a true statement. It’s neither a revelation nor a helpful observation, though. That was my point in the quote you responded to.

    –”System failed – if the system worked, then every vote would have been counted.”

    If that’s your criterion for success, then the system has never worked.

    –”…doesn’t mean there wasn’t any other kind of brutality such as voter-purging, racism, cheating, whatever. The exchange was far from being “peaceful.”

    Run this observation by a voter in Kenya or Zimbabwe and see how much sympathy you get. You’re trying to compare the usual skullduggery of a U.S. election to the violence and anarchy of failed republics. It wasn’t nearly that bad. Really. Again, if you think Florida 2000 was something new in U.S. politics or a symptom of a failed republic, then you need to wake up.

  • MaryAnn

    Of course it was something new: the presidental election was decided by the Supreme Court — which was packed with appointees with personal stakes in the outcome — in a decision that the Court announced could not be used to set precedent… which had never been done before.

    The U.S. is not Kenya or Zimbabwe. We’re supposedly setting the bar high for other nations, such as those, to aspire to. But I guess that was just the first ideal that got thrown out in the fire sale of American values over the last eight years.

  • bitchen frizzy

    It’s not the first time in history that the Supreme Court has headed off a constitutional crisis by making a ruling on an extraconstitutional matter by conjecturing what the constitution would say had it addressed the specific issue. They’ve exercised that power before. This was the first time it was applied to a presidential election, granted.

    The alternatives were unpleasant, with the Democrats threatening to use the tactic of endless recounts past the inauguration date as blackmail to get the result they wanted, if necessary by making up rules for counting the ballots that changed with each recount. The law and constitution did not provide a mechanism to achieve an outcome before instability and chaos set in, so the Supreme Court acted to preserve order, as it has done in the past. I get the impression the movie glosses over if not completely omits discussion of the Democrats’ underhandedness.

    No, this isn’t Kenya. When we have a contested election, we have a way to reach a resolution peaceably before instability and riots arise. We’ve never had an election dispute delay a smooth transition of power. That’s enviable in this world.

    There’s been no “fire sale of American values.” Elections have always been dirty. This administration has definitely backslid from standards of integrity and human rights achieved by the end of the twentieth century, but he hasn’t done anything that some president in the past hasn’t done before. That certainly doesn’t justify anything, and I don’t like to see our civilization retrogressing, and those in power did not and do not have my vote, but so far there’s been no unprecedented low. So far.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve said what I have to say.

  • wackyliberal

    This movie has about as much credibility as Star Wars, The Incredible Hulk, Bowling for Columbine, King Kong, or any of the other great fictional movies of our time. Its a fake…a phony written by bitter people who can’t stand the fact that the majority of America does not support the wacky out of control left wing nuts like Al Gore. Buh Bye

  • amanohyo

    If Al Gore is “out of control,” then you, my wacky liberal friend, are certifiably insane. There are plenty of nuts in both wings, but Al Gore is tackling an issue that is about as nonpartisan as they come, a fact that even McCain acknowledges.

    For someone so concerned with credibility, you really haven’t provided us with much in the way of credentials. Your “majority of America” comment suggests that you don’t believe that Mr. Gore actually received more votes than Mr. Bush. Are there any specific facts in this movie that you’d like to dispute?

  • paul

    Amanohyo, you’re probably wasting your time asking him to dispute facts. People like him(?) argue by insult and insinuation because facts get them in trouble, and some of them make a great deal of money doing so. Probably not Wackyliberal; he probably just buys their books or listens to their radio.

  • Larry Yinger

    Mary Ann
    Good for you in standing your ground.
    One of the nut jobs in the email string above derided “Star Wars”. But parable movies such as Star Wars and the LOTR trilogy are really not that far off as fictional counterparts to movies like Recount.
    In LOTR, Frodo trusted Aragorn because he expected an agent of Sauron to look “fair”, but feel “foul”. Recount does a fantastic job of showing how the Republicans looked fair, but felt so nauseatingly foul long before the Bush reign-of-terror actually happened.
    Certainly the right wing of poltics in Amerika has revealed itself to be servants of a Star-Wars-like “dark side”. They are true masters at pretending to be whatever is situationally convenient. Knowing the true Florida vote was not covenient for their purpose. The actual truth about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was, similarly, not important to them either. And they certainly don’t like to quibble about unclear “chads” like the US Constitution or the Geneva Convention. (Just throw them out!) And really, aren’t mutilated and dead American soldiers and Iraqis, etc. also just “chads” in the Republican “grand scheme” of things?
    Recount stands as a chronicle of “writing on the wall” that few actually saw at the time it was written. Sadly, it appears that too many people still can’t (or won’t) read the sign even now that it’s become a blazing neon billboard.

  • mike a

    Dream on guys. It was entertaining but slanted.
    There was NO fooling around. Bush won deal with it,
    get over it, and move on. Oh yeah, did you like the visit to the woodshed Palin gave the Dems last night

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    Heh, I’ve just read to the bottom of this thread. I wonder if Mike still thinks Palin is ‘taking the Democrats to the woodshed’?

  • Anne-Kari

    Just a geeky aside regarding this project: It was written by Danny Strong, who is a long-time acting alumnus of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (as well as Gilmore Girls). Always thought he was funny and talented but I never knew he could write as well.

  • D

    I had absolutely no idea. “Johnatan” wrote this? I guess he really was the good one of the nerds of doom.