Regardless of one's political leanings, there's no denying that U.S. Rep. Barney Frank is one colorful congressman. Among the most liberal members of Capitol Hill, he also happens to be among the cleverest, boasting a verbal wit and machinegun speaking delivery that have made him a favorite on the cable news circuit.
While Let's Get Frank purports to be about the longtime Massachusetts Democrat, one of the nation's most prominent openly gay politicians, it falls short of scratching much beyond the surface. Granted, that surface is plenty entertaining, and the picture's 75-minute running time is far too brisk to be boring. Nevertheless, filmmaker Bart Everly chiefly uses Frank as entry to reliving the Clinton impeachment proceedings of 1998 and 1999.
Despite a smattering of interviews with Frank's relatives, friends and then-partner Sergio Pombo, Let's Get Frank spends most of its time following the congressman's stint on the House Judiciary Committee that proved the first step in Bill Clinton's impeachment. Much of the video, in fact, appears culled from C-SPAN. Political junkies will find stretches of it fascinating, particularly the lawmakers' self-awareness that what goes on is, by and large, show business. Then again, that isn't exactly much of a revelation.
Throughout it all, Barney Frank shows the smarts that make him irresistible to reporters looking for a good quote. In one segment, he squares off against then-U.S. Rep. Steve Largent, an Oklahoma Republican, over the Defense of Marriage Act. When Largent contends that same-sex marriage threatens the entire institution of marriage, Frank tartly replies that such an argument "ought to be made by somebody in an institution."
If only Let's Get Frank had more of the guy. It isn't as if Barney Frank doesn't have a compelling story to tell. First elected to Congress in 1981, he outed himself years later during a routine interview with a journalist. Frank was ensnared in his own sex scandal in 1989, when it was discovered that a male prostitute was conducting business in the congressman's Washington, D.C., townhouse. Frank explains that the experience and subsequent reprimand from Congress helped shape his conviction that the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal was, ultimately, no one's business. Let's Get Frank hits on the 1989 episode, but it is only peripheral to the sequences involving impeachment.
In the end, the film's most memorable aspect is not Barney Frank's wit, political acumen or personal courage – although all appear in abundance. Instead, viewers are likely to be struck at how quaint the Clinton impeachment now seems with the passage of time.
In less that 10 years, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Iraq War and litany of controversies surrounding the Bush Administration have rendered the impeachment proceedings as a curious and somewhat absurd relic from a bygone past when the weightiest issues facing the world's greatest superpower had to do with oral sex and DNA on a blue dress. Oh, the way Glenn Miller played …
Shot on video and presented in full-frame 1.33:1, Let's Get Frank is down-and-dirty, no-frills documentary-making. The quality is akin to a local TV news broadcast: not great, but presentable.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is nothing special, but Frank's barbs come across clearly – or as clearly as his Elmer Fuddish vocal intonations are willing to accommodate.
The supplemental material includes an updated (and rather amateurishly shot) interview with Frank. Clocking it at nearly 11 minutes, it includes some meaty perspectives from the lawmaker about how the Clinton impeachment fiasco impacted the post-9/11 world of Beltway politics. Other extras include biographies of the filmmakers and trailers for Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, With God on Our Side: George W. Bush and the Rise of the Religious Right and Before Stonewall.
Let's Get Frank contains enough behind-the-scenes intrigue to entertain political junkies across the ideological spectrum, although it certainly helps if you already happen to be a fan of Barney Frank's. A pleasant trifle – but a trifle, nevertheless.