‘Recount’ All You Want

By Rob Patterson

There is but one overriding if ineloquent word I can come up with for Recount, HBO’s TV movie about the 2000 Presidential election debacle in Florida: Wow! Never that I can recall has a recent current event been so entertainingly and dramatically portrayed in television or film.

Recount has it all: drama of the highest order, a surprising and engaging amount of humor, superb portrayals by its actors, a “you are there” sense of reality along with the perspective provided by time and the dramatic form, and any number of larger, vital issues within a movie that spotlights the human side of the people most directly connected on the ground with the recount effort in the Al Gore camp and the efforts to stop it from the George W. Bush campaign. For anyone who cares about current American politics—and given the state of the union today, how can one not—it is simply “must see TV”—and you should have HBO and its On Demand service if you want to see television at its best in 2008—or on DVD when it comes out.

Shining above all the brilliance in this compelling work is Kevin Spacey, one of today’s finest actors, in a brilliantly nuanced and vibrantly real-life performance as Ron Klain, the general counsel of Gore’s recount committee. His is one of many superb portrayals: comedian Ed Begley Jr. plays Gore lawyer David Boies with a relaxed gravitas and Laura Dern all but channels the controversial Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

The film also makes the dizzying complexities of chads, dimples and the political and legal issues surrounding the 36 days after the 2000 election tangible. There is also a certain unplanned resonance to the movie’s timing at its television debut when Florida once again becomes a pivotal state in the current Democratic primary race as Hilary Clinton hedges her bets heavily on the matter of seating its delegation at the Democratic Party convention.

Of course the timing as we head into what is sure to be a highly contentious and, yes, entertaining presidential election this fall, no matter who is the Democrat nominee, is intentional. The other huge issue this film raises is the state of the entire electoral process nationwide. And that then raises the further matter of how can we trust the jokers in politics and government to reform a system with major flaws so that America’s electoral democracy can be as secure, reliable and both foolproof and safe from tampering and corruption.

Even though this story has its admirable players and even small ‘h’ heroes, one thing Recount does well is show how too many involved in the electoral and governmental processes are indeed jokers. And not just Katherine Harris, who one can certainly understand from the way Dern plays how she was later even jettisoned by the Republicans she so crucially aided at that critical juncture.

I have to wonder if the gripping drama of this movie was amped up, at least for someone of my leftist leanings, by what came after Bush was elected: The senseless Iraq war that has squandered, if not ruined, any post-9/11 goodwill towards America, all but broken our military, created further animus against this country and played right into Osama bin Laden’s hands, and of course the disgusting war profiteering, mercenary crimes, squandered billions and outright theft in an Iraq reconstruction effort that barely even qualifies as an effort. Not to mention Katrina, torture, domestic spying, the US attorneys scandal, the shameful outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame … and so much more.

Of course I watched it as one who wanted (and all but prayed) for Gore to win (it’s not just the fact that I live in Texas that made me fearful of a Bush II presidency, which has been even worse that I feared). I wonder if a Bush-supporting Republican might see it as film that shows a moment of wonderful triumph in a way they would enjoy seeing.

Recount also reinforces my assessment that the matter of Florida’s ballots was handled badly and that the Supreme Court’s decision that put Bush in the White House was highly questionable and certainly unprecedented. But that is all now history.

At the film’s end, Klain runs into James Baker III at the airport as they both leave Florida and asks him, “So did the best man win then?” To my way of thinking, only a closed-minded partisan or complete fool wouldn’t now answer that question with a resounding “Of course not!” Let’s hope the answer to that question this November will be “Yes.”

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@io.com.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2008

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