May 26, 2008

Did you watch "Recount," that HBO movie about the 2000 Florida recount?

I thought it was quite good. Though the story was mainly told from the Gore side, the Bush point of view was represented fairly, and there was a good overall balance to it. Complicated legal issues were explained surprising well without belaboring through through the use of various actors playing characters shown working out their next moves and real TV reporters seen in old video clips, telling us the news as it happened 8 years ago. It was especially exciting to see those old news clips, because, perfectly edited in, they stirred up the emotion that I felt when I saw them the first time. And the acted-out material really worked on me — as I was yelling at Al Gore not to concede and laughing at you don’t have to be snippy about it.

Kevin Spacey was the main character, Ron Klain. You either like Spacey or you don't. He seems to use dullness as his technique, and at this point, for me, it seems hammy. But his fleshy face was kind of subtly fascinating on the HDTV screen and I enjoyed him well enough.

We loved Laura Dern as Katherine Harris. It's so easy to mock the vain and exaggerated Harris, but Dern did a good job of getting inside the character. I could laugh and feel some reasonable sympathy for her.

The best actor was Tom Wilkinson, who, playing James Baker, mainly had to state legal positions and strategies. One thing I really love to get from an actor is the feeling that this person is thinking of the words he is saying — I want to lose the sense that there was a script — and Wilkinson really hit that spot for me with lines that must have looked dull on paper. After all, Baker was mainly about standing his ground, while the other side was scrappily fighting for every vote. But Wilkinson made this stolid intransigence damned exciting.

Of course, I got a kick out of seeing actors play the Supreme Court Justices. The Stevens and O'Connor were particularly good. The Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn't speak — maybe she wasn't even an actress — but she looked the part — amusingly.

That's my opinion. Take into account that: 1. I voted for Gore and rooted for Gore throughout the recount, 2. I accepted the Supreme Court's determination from the beginning (and continue to accept it after writing about it in depth and teaching it in detail numerous times), and 3. I didn't want Bush to become President, but I never hated him, and I voted for him in 2004.

IN THE COMMENTS: Somefeller writes:
I saw the film at a premiere last week at the Baker Institute at Rice. It was a lot of fun, and watching James Baker and Kevin Spacey elbowing each other every now and then when a good line in the film came on certainly added to the atmosphere. At one point, the sound went out on the film in a point when Spacey's character was having a big scene, to the horror of the Baker Institute staff, but it turned out great because Kevin Spacey jumped up and said his lines live, to the enjoyment of the audience, who basically got a free one minute live performance from Spacey. I spoke with Laura Dern at the reception after the film and asked her about her portrayal of Harris. She said the lines that Harris spoke in the film came from Harris's own book and from interviews with other GOP people involved in the Florida recount, so they weren't just created by the writers. She also said she tried to portray Harris (who she thought was basically someone in over her head and in many ways used cynically by other Republicans) sympathetically and not just as a cartoon character or villain, and she hoped that came through to the audience.

40 comments:

Jim Howard said...

Did the movie mention the extensive effort the Gore team made to have military mail-in ballots thrown out all over Florida?

Ann Althouse said...

Yes. In detail. Including a clip of Lieberman saying we won't do that and the Gore team reacting to it with hostility (as if he threw the election away and is basically setting himself up to run in '04).

Spread Eagle ® said...

How about how "dimpled" chads get themselves created and what it is about them that would lead Gore to believe the dimpled chads would predominantly favor him?

Quixotic said...

Was there anything about the FL Supreme Court? I thought at the time that the internal conflict in that court was interesting, with the strong dissent by the Chief Justice.

somefeller said...

I thought it was a good film, too. While it was more sympathetic to Gore, it showed the Republican arguments well, and James Baker was portrayed as the brilliant badass that every man wants to be portrayed as in film.

I saw the film at a premiere last week at the Baker Institute at Rice. It was a lot of fun, and watching James Baker and Kevin Spacey elbowing each other every now and then when a good line in the film came on certainly added to the atmosphere. At one point, the sound went out on the film in a point when Spacey's character was having a big scene, to the horror of the Baker Institute staff, but it turned out great because Kevin Spacey jumped up and said his lines live, to the enjoyment of the audience, who basically got a free one minute live performance from Spacey. I spoke with Laura Dern at the reception after the film and asked her about her portrayal of Harris. She said the lines that Harris spoke in the film came from Harris's own book and from interviews with other GOP people involved in the Florida recount, so they weren't just created by the writers. She also said she tried to portray Harris (who she thought was basically someone in over her head and in many ways used cynically by other Republicans) sympathetically and not just as a cartoon character or villain, and she hoped that came through to the audience.

Well, that's my little celebrity sightings report. Otherwise, very good film, and one that covered the legal issues quite well, even dissents and some procedural stuff.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I didn't see the movie (no HBO), and basedon the comments it doesn't look like I was the only one.

I did read a couple of the reviews this morning, and based on the NYT review Ann linked to, i didn't miss much.

One request for a clarification; did Gore's team react with hostility to teh suggestion to throw out the military ballots, or to Libermans suggestion to keep them?

rcocean said...

Sorry for my ignorance but did the Gore Team ever request a recount of All of Florida?

If so, was it talked about in the movie?

Ann Althouse said...

Spread Eagle ® said..."How about how "dimpled" chads get themselves created and what it is about them that would lead Gore to believe the dimpled chads would predominantly favor him?"

There was a vivid depiction of how dimpled chads got created and discussion of how the card technology and the failure to clear out the machines (allowing a build-up of chads that prevents a clear punch-through) would be prevalent in poorer neighborhoods where people are more likely to vote Democratic.

Quixotic said..."Was there anything about the FL Supreme Court? I thought at the time that the internal conflict in that court was interesting, with the strong dissent by the Chief Justice."

Yes. This was well-handled.

somefeller said..."I thought it was a good film, too. While it was more sympathetic to Gore, it showed the Republican arguments well, and James Baker was portrayed as the brilliant badass that every man wants to be portrayed as in film."

Yeah.

"I saw the film at a premiere last week at the Baker Institute at Rice. It was a lot of fun, and watching James Baker and Kevin Spacey elbowing each other every now and then when a good line in the film came on certainly added to the atmosphere. At one point, the sound went out on the film in a point when Spacey's character was having a big scene, to the horror of the Baker Institute staff, but it turned out great because Kevin Spacey jumped up and said his lines live, to the enjoyment of the audience, who basically got a free one minute live performance from Spacey. I spoke with Laura Dern at the reception after the film and asked her about her portrayal of Harris. She said the lines that Harris spoke in the film came from Harris's own book and from interviews with other GOP people involved in the Florida recount, so they weren't just created by the writers. She also said she tried to portray Harris (who she thought was basically someone in over her head and in many ways used cynically by other Republicans) sympathetically and not just as a cartoon character or villain, and she hoped that came through to the audience."

Cool! Thanks for the report!

An Edjamikated Redneck said..."One request for a clarification; did Gore's team react with hostility to teh suggestion to throw out the military ballots, or to Libermans suggestion to keep them?"

To Lieberman.

PatCA said...

I also don't like Space's dull-as-style technique. It's used in a lot of indie films, and as soon as I see it, I think nooooo........

I echo your voting patterns from 2000 to 2004. I wonder if this is a trend, a subculture, or what. I guess we're the independents the candidates are courting or, in Obama's case, will court as soon as he wins the Left.

somefeller said...

Thanks for the cite. One more little celebrity moment from that night. They set up a red carpet going into the entrance of the Institute for the premiere and reception, as well as a regular unmarked entrance to check in. I, of course, decided to walk the red carpet. I found my entry blocked by an attractive blonde woman in sunglasses and her friends getting her picture taken. I figured it was a local socialite getting her picture taken for newspaper's society page, and I was mildly annoyed about having to wait to get in. Fortunately, I didn't try to go around her, because when she turned around I discovered the attractive blonde was Laura Dern (the invitation didn't mention she was going to be there). Oops! I think the photo on the article I linked was taken at that moment. I'm not visible anywhere in the photo.

Beth said...

It's tivo'd but I haven't decided whether to watch it. I'm glad to hear Dern didn't do a charactiture but not surprised -- she's good. And Tom Wilkinson is almost always the best performer where ever he turns up.

I was most surpised, when looking at the credits, to see that the writer is Danny Strong, previously known to me only as the recurring character Jonathan on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Good for him!

vbspurs said...

I didn't care for it.

Not only did it lag during the diabolically intense scenes of voter counting mayhem, but the actors were stiff in their roles.

No, not just usually stiff Al Gore, whose "seen from behind" was virtually a caricature, even moreso than the Bush character; though didn't the Jeb Bush actor look JUST like him?

-- Incidentally, Tom Wilkinson/James Baker has got to stop pretending he can make his Leeds accent into anything approaching an American one. It's almost as distracting as Anthony Hopkins' --

The film shone whenever the non-A-list actors were on screen. The Leon County clerk using the computer to assigning the judge to Team Gore, the partisan crowds with their corny getups, but genuine outrage.

If only they had explored that angle, a little more, or even injected both Bush and Gore, oddly missing since the story concerned their fates more than anyone else's save America's*, it would've had more oomph.

As it was, even the sight of an unrecognisable dour Antonin Scalia was not enough to save this for me.

*The fate of America was the last message of this film.

It's seen in retrospect, of course, with the full implication that the people who were fighting this all the way (and perhaps the actors who embody them) knew full well the Supreme Court made the wrong decision.

It felt like a remake of 12 Angry Men meets All The President's Men meets War Room.

Cheers,
Victoria

Jeff with one 'f' said...

TWOP posted an interview with Danny Strong.

Simon said...

vbspurs said...
"Incidentally, Tom Wilkinson/James Baker has got to stop pretending he can make his Leeds accent into anything approaching an American one."

Can't be as bad as Hugh Laurie in House. I have to assume that his credibility with that accent comes from Ed Harris' observation in The Truman Show that we accept the reality with which we're presented, ergo, audiences who don't know he's a limey accept the accent because they have no reason to suppose it's feigned.

Lisa said...

"I voted for him [Bush] in 2004."

Wow. Maybe you have posted that before, but I haven't seen it. This explains so much. My opinion of UW just plummeted, sadly.

Dave said...

Agree with you that the portrayal of James Baker was brilliant. I remember the events like they were yesterday, and every time Baker came on the scene, you knew he was about to outfox Christopher. He was an imposing figure and exuded strength throughout the whole affair.

I hope Wilkinson gets an Emmy. He deserves it.

Dennis said...

I really disagree with the notion that Laura Dern's performance was fair. In my opinion, she played the character like a drooling imbecile, a woman wholly incapable of acting in good faith. At best, the film, and Dern, suggests she was an easily manipulated dupe.

And it doesn't matter if the words Dern spoke came from Harris's own books, unless the book came with her specific inflections, Dern still chose to editorialize by playing her, particularly in private moments, as a self-obsessed fool.

blake said...

Lisa's new around these parts.

Wilkinson is great in everything. He was great as Ben Franklin in "John Adams", too.

vbspurs said...

Can't be as bad as Hugh Laurie in House.

Oh my, isn't that the truth. And I love Laurie too, as Althousians know.

I think only Kate Beckinsale and Bob Hoskins do proficient American accents.

Clearly, the other way around is just as bad too, possibly worse. "British" English is rhythmic and regional, unlike the flatlined vowels of America. Gwyneth Paltrow comes closest, but Renee Zellweger's accent is cringe-worthy.

BTW, I agree that Wilkinson was proficient, other than the accent. He is a very good character actor.

But you have to admit that having to embody James Baker the person, is a lot of help.

I don't think Olivier himself could've helped Warren Christopher's cause.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

I really disagree with the notion that Laura Dern's performance was fair. In my opinion, she played the character like a drooling imbecile

Ditto.

I thought it was a lousy characterisation, from the moment she was aroused from her slumber wearing that Barnes & Noble's Shakespeare t-shirt, which she then wore in a hurry to the office. This was meant to convey immediately that she was unprofessional, and bush league -- as if anyone more seasoned could've been prepared for such an unimagined event.

Katherine Harris for liberals is a conjoining of Cruella DeVille and Paris Hilton.

blake said...

Victoria--

I hear lots of good American accents by Brits.

Alan Tudyk, for example, in "Dodgeball" (though it was mostly a pirate accent, he did talk normally for a brief moment), or in "Knocked Up".

OTOH, in the otherwise fun In Bruges, the got a big, fat Welsh guy to play an obnoxious American and he didn't even try.

Beldar said...

It amazes me that anyone could think Laura Dern's portrayal of Katheryn Harris was "sympathetic."

It was a very, very skillful hit job.

The overriding theme is expressed by Spacey's character shouting "I just want to know who won the damned election!" But the essential dishonesty of this film is proved by the fact that it completely ignores the post-election study jointly done by the AP and other news organizations -- which showed that Bush did win, dimpled chads or not, under any conceivable recount scene (except one that included over-votes, i.e., ballots spoiled by having votes for more than one candidate, which neither side ever suggested should be counted and no one could figure out how to count).

Ralph said...

My opinion of UW just plummeted, sadly.
You're disappointed that they don't control the votes of their faculty? Or that they'd hire someone who wasn't a dead-dog Democrat?

I never understood the animus against Harris, except as hypocritical misogyny by the feminist party. She strictly upheld the letter of the law, IIRC, but miscalculated the amount of makeup required for TV lights. Gore would have had more time to sue for recounts if he hadn't delayed her original certification. Served him right.

Beldar said...

(Links for my assertion: There were actually two media studies, one commissioned by USA Today and the Miami Herald, and another by the AP, NY Times, and six other media sources.)

somefeller said...

vbspurs says: I thought it was a lousy characterisation, from the moment she was aroused from her slumber wearing that Barnes & Noble's Shakespeare t-shirt, which she then wore in a hurry to the office. This was meant to convey immediately that she was unprofessional, and bush league -- as if anyone more seasoned could've been prepared for such an unimagined event.

Harris wore that t-shirt in public on the night in question in real life. Here is a cite from the Telegraph on that point, in an article sympathetic to her written while this was all happening. The writers didn't come up with that to make Harris look bad, so that detail can't be used to show that Dern's performance was a hit job on Harris.

One more aside, James Baker said at the event that he thought the characterization of Warren Christopher as weakling was inaccurate and unfair, and while he liked the film and enjoyed working with the HBO people to create the film, he didn't like that aspect of the film.

vbspurs said...

Fair point about the t-shirt, somefeller. Thanks for the reference.

Good to know the consummate diplomat, Jim Baker, stuck up for his colleague. Is it known if Christopher praised the Wilkinson's portrayal at all?

Or is this a question of the age-old attitude of "magnanimity in victory" by Baker?

Cheers,
Victoria

Ben (The Tiger) said...

Baker has an actor playing him saying, "Now listen, people, this is a street fight for the presidency of the United States," and then schooling his Democratic opponents.

He was awesome.

So of course Jim Baker loves the film. And he got a line struck from the end.

What's not to like? (Yeah, it's slanted towards the Gore people. It's a movie. The left is always right. Live with it.)

William T Sherman said...

Here's a question -- would HBO have made this film if Gore had succeeded in lawyering his way to the White House? Say, if the Dems had kept a couple thousand military votes from being counted.

Somehow I doubt it -- Hollywood doesn't shit where they eat....

Dennis said...

Regarding the matter of the Shakespeare tee-shirt, it was so specific that I automatically assumed it was based on fact.

However, the obnoxious portrayal of Katherine Harris, from the suggestion that everyone around her thought she was a blithering idiot to the scene where she quite literally swoons at the thought that little-old-her was goin' ta be important, was eye-rolling comfort food for the liberals in the audience.

Alexander said...

Blake-

Alan Tudyk is an American. In fact, I believe he was born in Texas.

As far as British actors portraying American accents...how about Russell Crowe and Kevin McKidd?

I think the main issue with Tom Wilkinson is not his accent, per se, but his cadence. He has a very formal and structured way of speaking that makes even the most mundane of sentences sound like formal prose.

William T Sherman said...

As far as British actors portraying American accents...how about Russell Crowe and Kevin McKidd?


Rusty is an Aussie, by way of New Zealand. Call him British to his face and he's likely to put you up a chook's bum.

Beth said...

Why the conservative fantasy that Kathleen Harris is not in fact an idiot, in over her head and not a person of towering integrity?

Beth said...

Victoria, American accents are regional, too -- a good many Brits and Aussies and Kiwis get away with the faux mid-American flat accent, but when anyone, Brit or American, tries an accent that's out of their comfort zone, it can really ruin a film or TV production. I'll nominate about 99 percent of movies set in New Orleans as examples, but it's just as frustrating to hear a Texas or Georgia or Mississippi accent rendered all as one big soggy mush-mouthed caricature.

blake said...

Alexander--

Oh! Damn, that's right! That explains why he so convincing!

Heh. I guess we leave it up to Victoria to determine if he does the Brit accent(s) well.

Hmmm. Helena Bonham Carter does a pretty good one in Fight Club right up until she yells "Fook you!"

vbspurs said...

but when anyone, Brit or American, tries an accent that's out of their comfort zone, it can really ruin a film or TV production.

Too right, Beth. The worst was All the King's Men remake (yeah, I saw it. I was the only person in the cinema -- it tanked big time).

Now as you have noted, I'm no expert on "Cajun accents", but Sean Penn just mangled his. Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, and Kate Winslet were, well I don't know WHERE they were supposed to be from. Papua New Guinea I think...

The total cacophony of this lot was the equivalent of nails-on-blackboard torture.

Oh, and BTW, Crowe doesn't do a good "British" accent (he's generally a good actor though). Neither does Kidman. How is her American accent?

Seeing as how she is originally from Hawaii, and all.

Cheers,
Victoria

rightwingprof said...

Did you watch "Recount,"

No. I'm pretty sick of left-wing masturbation fantasies. If I want to watch pornography, I'll watch pornography.

Terrence Berres said...

Althouse: "I voted for him [Bush] in 2004."

Lisa: "My opinion of UW just plummeted, sadly."

At law alumni gatherings, there's usually snark about Justice Scalia from some faculty member or other, if that helps you.

Pastafarian said...

I watched this piece-of-shit propaganda piece, with a morbid fascination that prevented me from turning it off. It should compete with Michael Moore's next offering for the "Leni" (aka the "Triumph of the Will Award").

Every Republican was portrayed as a cartoonish villain; every Democrat as a saint. The Katherine Harris depiction was offensive beyond belief -- but the sexism of liberals shouldn't surprise me any more. They even twisted facts -- they depicted the Supreme Court's first half of their decision (the 7-2 decision that the method of recounting was unconstitutional) as a VICTORY for the Gore team. Then their hopes were dashed by the purely political 5-4 decision that no recount should continue. But in actuality, the 7-2 decision was a resounding nonpartisan rejection of Gore's argument.

Or do I misrember this whole affair from 8 year ago?

Joe said...

I think Laurie's House accent is quite good. Then again, I grew up in the non-coastal northeast where this accent is quite prevalent.

Thomas L. Waldron said...

Quoting from p. 54 of my book, Why Isn't Al Gore President?, "... any votes recovered in the recount would be apportioned in the same ratio as the recorded vote ... Twelve percent of the vote was cast by absentee ballot and Bush won the absentee vote over Gore by 23 percent. That means that Gore defeated Bush in the Florida votes cast on election day by 3.2 percent. All of the potential votes among those unread by the tabulating machines were cast on election day. Thus for every 1000 votes recovered in Florida from those which had been unread, Gore would receive an expected net gain of 32 votes. Statewide there were 64,248 undervotes ...In their recount of the undervote in 60 counties, The Miami Herald (obtained) ... a recovery rate of 39 percent. A recovery rate of 39 percent for the statewide undervote would be an expected net gain for Gore of 802 votes. The Gore campaign decided to ask for a recount of the undervote in only those four counties in which they received a high percentage of the vote, thus increasing the net gain they would expect over the gain from a statewide recount."