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The American President

Seen this movie a half dozen times since it was released, and enjoy it no less. Noticed something this time however that escaped me previously.

A quick point out of the way first though. I don't know how he does it, but Sorkin writes comedy that's funny on the first, second and sixth viewing. The jokes are carefully plotted out but they still work, again and again and again. They're artificially constructed, but don't come off that way. Is it the writing? The acting? The direction? A combination of all three? And if it's the writing, then what is it about the writing? I wish I knew.

As some have pointed out, The American President does take a more simplistic approach to partisanship than The West Wing. The Republicans are little more than caricatures. But that doesn't mean the movie is an exercise in conservative bashing. Firstly, The American President is a love story first and a political drama second, so a less nuanced portrayal of the political spectrum is forgivable. More importantly however, President Shepherd's core fight is not with the Republican Party as epitomised by the loathsame Bob Rumson, who is, after all, portrayed as a blowhard and revealed as a lightweight by film's end. Rather, Shepherd's conflict is with his own principles.

Shepherd wants to take the moral high road when it comes to his relationship with Sydney. He adopts the understandable view that his personal life is nobody's business but his own and that to wade (no pun intended) into the mud of political pugilism is to elevate his opponent and sully himself.

On the other hand Shepherd is also portrayed as a man who has compromised his principles by playing it policy safe. The two legislative narratives winding their way around the love story, the ineffectual gun control bill and the token nods towards environmental governance, dramatise this.

He doesn't want to play politics with his heart, but has no qualms in doing the same with his job. Now, he is of course a politician, so that's a perfectly realistic scenario, but Sorkin - as he so often does - argues that expediency should not be the watchword of the day. And so, in the movie's climax, Sorkin lets Shepherd be Shepherd as it were.

But couldn't one argue that by going on the offensive against Rumson as he did, viscerally thrilling as it is to watch, Shepherd has indeed taken the low road here? That he has rediscovered his principles in one sphere only to imperil them in the other?

I'm sure there's a good counter-argument to this theory, but for the moment at least it attaches a dark lining on the silver cloud which is worth mulling over.


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In an ironic turn you wouldn't believe if it happened on TV, Pahrump has just confirmed every redneck, narrow-minded stereotype that Sorkin tried to repudiate only days ago in "Nevada Day". [Read More]

Comments (2)

I absolutely love this movie (and pray for the day it gets a proper DVD), but I've always had to ask: where's the Vice President?

> where's the Vice President?

It's a Sorkin script... so probably indulging in a sexual peccadillo of one sort or another. ;-)

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