Made for Television Movie
Airdate: May 25th, 2008
While many of the selections in the 2008 TV Time Capsule deserve Emmy attention in their future, this is one selection that has already made its way to Emmy glory. I watched Recount over the summer, and much like Generation Kill it follows a highly political event in America’s history, taking us behind the scenes of the 2000 Federal Recount which decided whether George Bush or Al Gore would become President of the United States.
As with Generation Kill, we know the ending already: this doesn’t, however, make the film any less powerful. With great turns from Kevin Spacey, Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban, Denis Leary, and especially Laura Dern as Catherine Harris, the film manages to elide the candidates themselves while maintaining all of the momentum of those final moments. By focusing on the minutia, the lawyers and the campaign staff and the people who handled the various recounts, the film revels in not the result of the film (the cancellation of the recount and the victory of George W. Bush) but how that result was felt by the people who fought on both sides.
The film shouldn’t have been the success it was: written by Danny Strong, best known for his stints on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls as an actor and not a writer, and directed by Jay Roach, best known for his directorial work with Mike Myers, it didn’t feel like it had the kind of prestige you often see from these HBO “Special Events.” But its quality, and its eventual Emmy win, are a testament to the work of both men, rising to the challenge; you could tell this was an intensely personal project for all involved, a fact which took a potentially clichéd piece of political opportunism in the buildup to the ’08 election and turned it into a darn great television movie.
Like Generation Kill, the film poses questions about what might have been, but there is more distance here: yes, Bush’s presidency has played a largely detrimental role over these eight years, but as we head towards his final days as President there is an end in sight. The film never feels like propaganda, but Recount is nonetheless the kind of sort of statement that democracy needs: it presents people committed to the process in a way that nearly changed history, and if that inspired anyone to the polls in November then the film deserves its place in the Time Capsule that much more.
[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]