Spinning Boris
Showtime // R // $26.99 // September 28, 2004
Review by Randy Miller III | posted October 4, 2004
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If you think America is the only nation with a questionable history of election victories, think again. Spinning Boris (2003), director Roger Spottiswoode's film about the 1996 re-election campaign of Boris Yeltsin, is anything but a typical look at behind-the-scenes politics. Taking cues from earlier films like Wag the Dog, Bob Roberts, and even Network, the politically-charged atmosphere of Spinning Boris is anything but predictable. It tells the story of George Gorton (Jeff Goldblum), Dick Dresner (Anthony LaPaglia), and Joe Shumate (Liev Schreiber), three American political consultants hired by the Russian elite to win back Yeltsin's fading approval rating. Despite a deadly amount of opposition from nearly all sides, the three consultants prove resourceful enough to bend politics in their favor. Whether their solution is clever manipulation or genuine political strategy is a matter of opinion, but it certainly makes for an interesting premise.

In all honesty, it's extremely hard to classify films like Spinning Boris. It most closely resembles a dramatic satire, even though the facts are certainly in order and the story is believable. Additionally, it's a re-enactment of an historical event, and that fact alone doesn't make it a documentary. When it dips into the genre of black comedy (on plenty of occasions!), the line between black comedy and satire is thin enough to ignore. Regardless of semantics, it's a thought-provoking story that pulls no punches. Whether you think the re-telling of these events is 100% accurate or an exaggerated lie, it's obvious that Spinning Boris was carefully and deliberately made.

In addition to the carefully crafted story, the performances are also top-notch. From the very beginning, it's obvious that Goldblum, LaPaglia, and Schreiber are the stars of the show, and these three certainly prove they're up to the challenge. Through every twist and turn, it's easy to see that these guys are firmly based on their real counterparts (who you'll meet elsewhere on the DVD), and they're an absolute joy to watch in action. While the premise itself was enough to create such a believable scenario, the addition of such a talented cast really takes Spinning Boris to a higher level. Any way you look at it, it's an entertaining film that reassures the viewer that politics are much more interesting than your typical C-Span II programming block.

Spinning Boris originally aired on Showtime in 2003 (appropriately enough, right around the time of the recent Russian election), and it's finally made the jump to DVD for your viewing pleasure. While the technical quality and overall presentation aren't anything truly remarkable, the film alone makes this DVD worth looking out for. All things considered, it's a decent release that'll hopefully turn some heads. With that said, let's see how this disc stacks up, shall we?

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality:

Since Spinning Boris is a super-low-budget film made for television, I wasn't expecting very much in the visual department. It's true that the image quality isn't anything spectacular, but this isn't a film that really warrants a slick presentation. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is about as good as the film will ever look on DVD, and that's the best we can hope for in this case.

Likewise, the audio treatment is a fairly standard but faithful presentation, although the 5.1 Surround mix never really opens up much. All things considered, it's a low-key affair that suits the material perfectly. Dialogue and music cues are clear and balanced, both for the 5.1 track and the alternate English and Spanish 2.0 Stereo mixes. Closed Captioning is also provided for the hearing impaired.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:

Fairly straightforward presentation here, featuring standard 4:3 animated menus with the film's music playing in the background. Navigation was simple and straightforward. The 112-minute film was divided into a measly 8 chapters (no kidding!), and no layer change was detecting during playback. The packaging was also basic, with attractive cover art and a nice overall design. The disc was housed in a standard black keepcase, and no insert was included.

Bonus Features:

I'd have loved to dig through a few meaty supplements, but the extras found here are a little lacking. The only one of great interest is a short series of Interviews with the real-life political consultants from the film (Gorton, Dresner, and Shumate). They shed a decent amount of light on their own personal experiences regarding the film's events, but I'd have really liked this 10-minute session to dig a little deeper. Perhaps an audio commentary pairing these gentlemen with the cast or director would have been a more worthwhile inclusion, but I guess we should be thankful for anything. Also here is a fairly lame Photo Gallery that only contains a handful of small publicity stills, as well as Filmographies for Jeff Goldblum, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Schreiber, and Roger Spottiswoode. Lastly, there's a series of Previews for other upcoming Showtime releases The L Word, DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, and Coast to Coast. Overall, nothing to get too excited about, but at least the interview session was interesting.

Final Thoughts

Spinning Boris is definitely a can't-miss film if you're a follower of politics, domestic or international. Although it's a little heavy-handed (regardless if you consider it a full-blown satire or just a tongue-in-cheek comedy), it's a successful effort that's highly entertaining and thought-provoking. If the DVD presentation were a little more polished---especially in the extras department---Spinning Boris could have been a top-notch release, despite the high price tag. Still, the film itself is strong enough to warrant further investigation, so track this one down and give it a good look. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is a moderately affable art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.

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