The bitter aftertaste of the 2000 presidential election still lingers in the current showdown between Barack Obama and John McCain. Although most of the country now views that strange, sad chapter in our history as a bit distant, it doesn't seem to take much to stir up the cable news pundits or the mainstream media and send them flying off to do stories about the unreliable nature of e-voting or how the vast right-wing conspiracy has led us to the dire state we currently find ourselves in as a country.
Yet, in watching director Jay Roach's brisk, stinging Recount, the sprawling, barely believable 36-day odyssey that resulted in the state of Florida becoming a battleground state -- quite literally -- as the outcome of its population's vote hung in the balance, you never feel the weight of history. In fact, I was reminded of Mike Nichols' vastly underrated 1998 Bill Clinton roman a clef Primary Colors, in that tonally, both films tread very similar paths. The reality of course is that Colors was far more speculative than Recount can afford to be and it's to screenwriter Danny Strong's credit that, for the most part, the entire film feels utterly authentic.
For those who missed living through the tumultuous process, Recount picks up on the morning of Election Day 2000, as Gore aide Ron Klain (Kevin Spacey) prepares to deal with the day's events. As the day progresses, aides on both sides of the aisle begin to notice slight irregularities in various precincts in Florida, which culminates with Gore first conceding, then retracting a concession to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush (both men are played by actors, whose faces are briefly, if ever, glimpsed).
What follows is a tragic, comic and brutal process of hand recounts, hanging chad (one of the film's funniest moments comes when Ron and fellow aide Michael Whouley, played by Denis Leary, debate the pluralization of chad), legal maneuvers and counter-maneuvers, which results in Democrats and Republicans arguing before the Supreme Court as to who should be president. As the saying goes, if it were a movie, you'd never believe it.
Of course, partisan movie buffs have decried or championed the film (depending upon political persuasion) as being either too one-sided or too damning. While the finished product is far from documentary quality (although Jim Denault's appropriately edgy, hand-held cinematography does provide a welcome dose of energy), there are certainly those who come out looking worse than others. But if screenwriter Strong is to be believed, the script process was extensive, and great pains were taken to at least approximate accuracy. Recount isn't a flawless, bias-free political document, but it's certainly more even-handed than you might expect.
Recount is also aided greatly, aside from director Roach's light touch, a tremendous, star-studded cast: Spacey, Leary, Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt, Ed Begley Jr., Laura Dern, Bob Balaban and Bruce McGill all turn in stellar performances, each finding just the right note and never stooping to mere impersonations. Dern, in particular, finds humanity in Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, perhaps one of the episode's most mocked participants.
As of this writing, the 2008 presidential election has yet to unfold, but the questions raised by the 2000 presidential election -- the security of votes, the reliability of precinct captains, the cronyism in local government -- have yet to be answered to most voters' satisfaction. Will Recount be viewed in the coming months as a sobering reminder of our past or a haunting glimpse at our future?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, this anamorphic widescreen transfer sparkles throughout, befitting a very recently filmed production. The colors are vivid throughout, blacks are inky without becoming noisy and the level of detail is expectantly crisp, particularly given the jangled, documentary-style of composing the images. An all-around great looking disc.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track has precious little to do during Recount except make sure that all the hullabaloo about hanging chad and counter-suits is heard crisply and clearly. That job it does very well, providing a smooth, clean soundstage with no discernible distortion or other aural hiccup. An optional Spanish Dolby 2.0 track is provided, as are optional English, Spanish and French subtitles.
Roach and Strong sit for a fascinating, revealing commentary track that outlines the film's creation (on a touching note, Roach and Strong dedicate the film to the late Sydney Pollack, who was working on the film before withdrawing because of illness and retains an executive producing credit). The commentary track is essential listening for fans of the film. The eight minute, 36 second featurette "The True Inside Story of the 2000 Presidential Election" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) finds author/CNN contributor Jeffrey Toobin and Strong discussing the events from 2000. The seven minute, 16 second featurette "A Conversation Between Kevin Spacey and the Real Ron Klain" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) is an engaging discussion between actor and subject, as is the five minute, 26 second featurette "A Conversation Between Bob Balaban and the Real Ben Ginsberg" (presented in anamorphic widescreen).
While the finished product is far from documentary quality, there are certainly those in Recount who come out looking worse than others. But if screenwriter Danny Strong is to be believed, the script process was extensive, and great pains were taken to at least approximate accuracy. Recount isn't a flawless, bias-free political document, but it's certainly more even-handed than you might expect. Recommended.