Next up in the Politic-a-thon is the first political film from my favourite script writer, Aaron Sorkin. There’s just this great sense of humour and optimism present in a lot of Sorkin’s scripts, mainly this and a virtually every episode of The West Wing he wrote and even the non-political scripts he’s written (The Social Network and Moneyball springing to mind) have been some of the best scripts written in the past few years so I wanted to see if his earlier scripts were as good and I’m happy to say that The American President is another excellent film with an excellent script.
The plot concerns President Andrew Shepherd, a Democrat President trying to push through bills for environmental protection and crime prevention. Since the Republicans are unwilling to approve any serious legislation for environmental protection, he gets in some lobbyists to help cut down the bill. One of these is Sydney Ellen Wade who attracts Shepherd’s attention on a romantic level since he is a widower. Shepherd and Wade end up starting a relationship but this opens up Shepherd to ad homenium attacks from his opponents, attacks which he avoided in his campaign since that was when his wife died. What I like about the plot is that the political elements and the romantic elements are perfectly balanced making it so, when each element comes up, it doesn’t feel out of place and it all just flows together. I also really like how the film shows the nature of politics and of compromise, from the crime prevention bill that will do absolutely nothing but is the only one Republicans will approve of to having to sacrifice some bills in order to allow others to pass, at the expense of relationships. There is also the focus that personal affairs, ones that shouldn’t matter on a political level, will help to influence political actions, as seen through a lot of Republicans turning against the crime prevention bill after the relationship between Shepherd and Wade becomes public knowledge and the sacrifices that are made in order to boost future election campaigns in the face of low approval ratings. All of this stuff is balanced together brilliantly by Aaron Sorkin’s script which is filled with great lines and the requisite Sorkin deadpan humour and this, along with the sets and cast members, provide the elements that would later be used by Sorkin in The West Wing.
The performances in the film are uniformly excellent. Michael Douglas is brilliant as Shepherd, showing a great sense of doubt that what he’s doing is having any effect along with the grief he has over the loss of his wife and the sense that he will do anything to get his political actions accomplished, at the expense of people he loves whilst also showing the guilt he feels in doing this. Annette Benning is also great as Wade, there’s this great sense of drive that she has, letting you know that she is really good at her job and when she makes the offer to the President that she can get a certain number of votes for the environmental bill you know she’ll get the votes. The romance aspect of the film meanwhile is aided by the brilliant chemistry that Douglas and Benning have. Martin Sheen meanwhile gets a lot of the best deadpan dialogue in the film, a trait he continued in The West Wing whilst also showing his character, the Chief of Staff, has a great deal of respect for Shepherd, and also shows how Shepherd the person and Shepherd the President are becoming two separate entities. Great performances are also given by Michael J Fox and Richard Dreyfuss, along with Sorkin mainstays Joshua Malina, Nina Siemaszko and Anna Deavere Smith.
Overall, The American President is an excellent film, perfectly managing the political and romantic elements to create the best of both worlds, all pulled together by top notch performances and an excellent script by Aaron Sorkin, which continues Sorkin’s status to me as the best screenwriter working today.
My Rating: 5/5