...So Goes The Nation is like a beautiful autopsy. Focused on battleground state Ohio in the week preceding the 2004 Presidential election, the film cuts the struggle from stem to sternum and lays out the political guts for us to sniff.
Despite the heated and controversial subject matter, ...So Goes The Nation is at once informative, hilarious and fair.
While much of the humor comes from political movers and shakers like former Clinton staffer Paul Begala and the Bush campaign media director Mark McKinnon, the passion and drive of the story are the men and women on the front lines.
The film follows three generations of campaign workers, lawyer Miles Gerety, middle-aged mother Leslie Ghiz and young activist Evan Hutchison, as they try to swing the state that mattered most to their political side.
The older Gerety and the 26-year-old Hutchison both worked for the Kerry/Edwards campaign while Ghiz was a volunteer coordinator in Cincinnati for the Bush re-election effort. The filmmakers combined footage taken the week before the election with interviews after the fact to tell an interesting story.
Each exhibits great hindsight into their experiences, with Ghiz standing out when she points to how quickly the "marriage amendment" disappeared once Bush won re-election.
Much of the wisdom in the movie comes from those close to both campaigns and documents how the candidate that shouldn't have been able to lose -- John Kerry -- completely blew every chance to take out one of the least popular presidents in modern history.
Begala is especially funny and insightful, pointing to problems with Kerry's campaign, from intellectualism as a liability to a complete lack of a coherent message.
On the other side, McKinnon is open and honest, talking easily about all the reasons George W Bush should have, but did not, lose.
Despite an ending that is literally so obvious you'd have to be waking up from a coma that began in 2003 to be surprised, the film builds some serious suspense. Even those who followed the race closely will find themselves a little on edge as the final pronouncement on Ohio is made.
The subject might be a sore one, but for those who want to see inside competing campaigns, this 90-minute documentary is a must-see.
...So Goes The Nation is so far from Hi-Def, you'll think it was filmed in Squiggle-Vision. It's presented in a 4:3 letterbox "matted" widescreen, meaning you get thick black bars not just on the left and right, but also on the top and bottom. I weep for the wasted pixels of my TV.
The in-field picture quality suffers due to changing conditions and the copies of outside footage used isn't always top notch, but the post-game interviews are clear and viewers shouldn't have any trouble telling what's going on.
The Audio: Well, it was in stereo, not that it mattered. The movie is just people talking, after all. No car chases or explosions or big dance numbers, so it doesn't need to be anything more.
The menu page fills the entire screen -- why they couldn't do the same for the movie, I don't know -- and the chapter selection is inventive looking and easy enough to use.
There's no trailer to be found, but there is an audio commentary with directors James Stern and Adam Del Deo. While somewhat informative about the editing process and the man-power it took to get an enormous task done on short notice, they mostly talk over the things they tell viewers to look for.
Is it interesting to know that Stern called Deo three days before filming began to pitch him the idea? Yes. Does the same apply when Deo talks over Begala's line about how hard it is to retort when someone's fist is in your mouth while telling you it's a great line? Not so much.
Whatever your political leanings. ...So Goes The Nation will teach you a lot about the hotly contested 2004 Presidential campaign in Ohio and, maybe more importantly, about how these campaigns are really won or lost. It's incisive, funny and well-worth the investment of an hour and a half. I Highly Recommend it.