Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Movie Review: The Campaign

The Campaign
Directed by: Jay Roach.
Written by: Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy.
Starring: Will Ferrell (Cam Brady), Zach Galifianakis (Marty Huggins), Jason Sudeikis (Mitch), Dylan McDermott (Tim Wattley), Katherine LaNasa (Rose Brady), Sarah Baker (Mitzi Huggins), John Lithgow (Glenn Motch), Dan Aykroyd (Wade Motch), Brian Cox (Raymond Huggins), Karen Maruyama (Mrs. Yao).

I don’t know if the fact that The Campaign is as silly and over the top of a comedy that Will Ferrell has ever made, and is still not that far from the reality of today’s politics in America is a good thing or a bad thing, True, the idea that all the things that happens in this movie would happen in a single Congressional campaign is hard to believe, but if you isolate the individual events, none of them are that far from things that have actually happened. America is a country where people will do anything to win in politics, and do so for no other reason than to simply win. This is a movie about politicians, and yet not a single issue is given any serious time in the movie – that’s because the issues no longer matter. What matters now is money and winning.

Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a 4 term Democratic Congressman from North Carolina. He has his district so sewn up, he runs unopposed every election year. He was once said to be a Vice Presidential candidate, and his wife wants him to be that one day. Not President, where he’d have to do things, but Vice President where he has to do nothing. Brady keeps running every time essentially because he likes being a Congressman. It’s easy, and people like him. His speeches are about nothing – he just hits on buzzwords “America, Jesus, Freedom” and tailors his speeches to whoever he is talking to (apparently every individual group is the backbone on America). The job also comes with perks – like beautiful, blond women who are attracted to him. It’s one of those women who gets Cam into trouble in the first place. And gets the Motch brothers thinking that maybe it’s time to replace Cam in Congress. And they have the money to make that happen.

The person they select is Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), who is running as Republican, and is the son of a powerful man, which of course means he must be smart enough to be a politician. He speaks in an effeminate voice, has a pleasant wife, and two sons, as well as two pugs – which Cam immediately accuses of being Chinese dogs, and hence Communists. He loves him hometown, and is looking forward for his chance to serve it as a Congressman. Does he have any ideas of his own? Not by the evidence presented in this film. He has no chance of winning the election – at least not until the Motch brothers send political adviser Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to help him. He then transforms himself into a platitude speaking, mudslinging politician just like Cam Brady. If Brady keeps hitting on the theme of America, Jesus and Freedom, than Marty keeps talking about bringing his broom to Washington because ”It’s a mess”. You can say this no matter if you a Democrat or a Republican – just as long as you are not the incumbent.

The Campaign begins with what would consider a dirty campaign between these two candidates, and simply gets worse and worse as the movie goes along. Yes, the movie does identify the characters as a Democrat and a Republican, but this is mainly a non-partisan movie. It sees both characters as morally bankrupt and beholden to their wealthy backers. The movie does tap into the anger that many people have towards politicians in America right now – hence why Congress keeps setting records for the lowest approval rating in history. The only issue that the movie takes on at all is campaign finance reform, and in particular the controversial Supreme Court Case Citizens United – which has been criticized by some politicians on each side of the aisle. But most people in politics like the new rule – it allows them to raise as much money as possible.

If I’ve made The Campaign sound more serious than it really it, that wasn’t on purpose. If you’re a fan of Ferrell or Galifianakis, and their over the top comic styling’s, you’ll enjoy The Campaign even if you have no interest at all in politics. The two act like idiots – which they are better at than most actors in Hollywood, and they are both hilarious throughout the movie. And yet, there is a kernel of truth underneath all the over the top comedy in The Campaign that makes it slightly more interesting than most comedies of its ilk. I do wish the movie had a more cynical ending than this one does. There is an underlying idealism at the heart of The Campaign that argues that most politicians know the difference between right and wrong, and got into politics for the right reasons and have simply lost their way. I`m not sure if that`s true, and I certainly do not buy in the case of either of these idiots. Yes, someone wins and someone loses the election, but when people are stuck picking between these two idiots, everyone loses. And you should be angry about that – because it’s not that far from the truth.

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