I’ve heard something about an election coming up in a few days. I kind of wish I was blissfully unaware, to be honest with you. I’ve become frustrated with the disgusting behavior I’ve seen from candidates and their supporters on both sides of the aisle. At least I can escape into the world of movies. So, we’re going to take a look at a few election themed films over the next few days, beginning with a film whose one-word title perfectly sums up what all these candidates seem to care most about. It’s a 1986 drama from director Sidney Lumet…Power.
The film follows Pete St. John (Richard Gere), a political consultant who is one of the best at getting people elected. He doesn’t care what the candidate stands for as long as they can pay his fee. He, along with his assistant/lover Syd (Kate Capshaw) take charge of every aspect of the campaign…from commercials to debates to what color suit the candidate wears. Leading up to the next election, Pete is managing several campaigns, including governors races in Washington state and New Mexico. Pete is then approached by a public relations expert named Arnold Billings (Denzel Washington) to manage the campaign of an Ohio millionaire (J.T. Walsh) vying for a senate seat vacated by a close friend of Pete’s (E.G. Marshall).
Pete spends much of the film hopping around the country from campaign to campaign. Things start to get complicated with the Ohio race, though when it seems that Billings is involved in some shifty practices, including bugging Pete’s office. Things get more challenging when an upstart candidate enters the race with Pete’s former mentor, Wilfred Buckley (Gene Hackman) at the helm of his campaign. Through it all Pete is faced with the realization that he has become more concerned with getting rich and not with what the impact of these elections is on the American people.
I found Power to be an interesting film, but it’s a big unbalanced. The first half of the movie is very strong. Oddly enough, the first half also doesn’t have much of a plot. It’s almost more of a character study as we see Gere’s character dealing with a variety of different behind-the-scenes situations with running a campaign. The second half of the film is less engaging. It feels a bit like the writers felt like they needed to start bringing all the pieces together into something that was more meaningful…but it was much more interesting just watching Gere’s character do what he does.
Overall Gere’s performance is quite good. He makes Pete a bit full of himself and smarmy but not odious. Gene Hackman is a real treat, sadly he isn’t in the film near enough for my tastes. His eccentric, slightly alcoholic character is probably the most likable person in the film. Denzel Washington also doesn’t get a ton of screen time, but he makes the most of what he gets. He is brilliantly sinister in this film and reminded of how much I love it when Denzel plays the villain. The ladies don’t fare as well for me, however. Kate Capshaw is passable but doesn’t really do anything to make a mark. Julie Christie, as Gere’s reporter ex-wife, really drags things down, though. Her role in the story just struck me as completely unnecessary.
I don’t know how accurate this film is in its portrayal of the backstage machinations of politics. I probably don’t want to know, to be honest, but what this film puts on screen is still pretty intriguing. I did think the ending was somewhat guilty of trying to tie a big pink bow on things. I think a much more cynical approach would’ve been more fitting considering the rest of the film. Still, the film held my interest. I wish the second half had the energy of the first, but the cast succeeded in carrying me through to the end.