There is a grand tradition of “heist films”—classics like The Sting, Heist, Three Kings, and The Thomas Crown Affair, and lesser fare like Femme Fatale and Oceans Twelve. Add somewhere in the middle of that list a new blockbuster, Election 2000.
Election 2000, like other “heist films,” turns on a few staple ingredients—a larcenous but likeable central figure (or two); a hugely valuable or precious article to be stolen; and a complex scheme which dazzles the viewer with its ingenuity as it unfolds. Here, the moviemakers lay out a seemingly-impossible task: George W. Bush and his cronies attempt to steal a presidential election in plain view of more than two hundred million Americans, under round-the-clock media coverage.
This premise doesn’t disturb us, because the entire “heist” genre is essentially amoral. We are asked to disregard a conventional societal viewpoint, which takes a dim view of theft, and instead admire the thieves’ guile and audacity as sheer entertainment. No surprise here: the strategy works. Ever since sly Odysseus got Polyphemus drunk, drove a stake into his eye, and stole his sheep, audiences have traded in their moral yardsticks for marvelous yarns. Election 2000, by the latter standard, succeeds admirably, holding the audience enrapt for more than eight days—an unprecedented length for a feature film.
At the peak of the genre, our appreciation of the cleverness of the thieves is heightened by the intelligence of those they must outwit, and it is here that Election 2000 falls short. We expect the antagonists to be watchful, organized, sophisticated, even cunning—worthy opponents whose eventual defeat magnifies the achievement of the successful thief. The Democrats in this film—Al Gore and the mucilaginous Joe Lieberman— are befuddled and passionless, with Lieberman actually enabling the heist at each turn.
The name ‘George W. Bush’ hardly carries the star power of a Redford or Newman, or even a Pierce Brosnan. But Bush puts on a believable performance as a would-be President of the United States, aided by a powerful supporting cast which includes Jeb Bush as the Florida governor and Katherine Harris as his loyal secretary of state, who conspire together to suppress the black vote, disenfranchise voters in predominantly Democratic districts, and include dubious military votes. Jim Baker operates as the deus ex machina.
Most of the key scenes in Election 2000 were shot in Florida, a novel location for a film with politics at its center. As fans of Wag the Dog know, the real political center of the United States is a studio in Hollywood.
I won’t reveal the torturous twists of the plot, or its outcome. Viewers’ suspense is somewhat abated, however, by widespread reports that a sequel was in production before the first film was even released. Filmmakers being the opportunists they are, and fans the ever-gullible optimists they are, a second film was inevitable. The follow-up—tentatively titled (what else?) Election 2004—also stars Bush, with the surly Dick Cheney once again cast as his sidekick, “the Veep.” Can 2008 be far behind?
© Tony Russell, 2006