Five Flicks About: POTUS in Peril


While the whole world is holding its breath, hoping that the stupid part of America is slightly smaller than the rest, I've been watching a few movies about the American president.

Five movies to be exact. All of them stories where the President of the United States is in some kind of trouble, all of them worth watching, and all of them preferable to the endless stream of superficial election news.

Check 'em out...


Seven Days in May (1964)

Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Casey, who discovers that his superior, General Scott (Burt Lancaster), may be involved in a plot to overthrow the president (Fredric March), because the Commander-in-Chief is planning to make a disarmament deal with the Russians.

This is not a thriller or an action movie, and perhaps it's not as sexy as some of the other stories, where the president must face nuclear war - Fail-Safe (1964) springs to mind - because the threat is a bit elusive. We never get that big, scary image of a world in flames, because the story mostly plays out on the political arena, in shady back rooms where the core elements of the plot are merely hinted at, but rarely spoken out loud. By the same token, though, the movie also feels like a far more realistic depiction of a coup d'état. This is probably how such a conspiracy would play out in real life, with the caveat that we're still in a Hollywood movie.

Once you begin to consider the ramifications of these events, if they should happen in real life, a cold chill will run down your back.

An American Affair (2009)

Ostensibly the story about 13-year old Adam (Cameron Bright), a bundle of raging hormones on the verge of a sexual awakening, who develops a forbidden relationship with the beautiful Catherine (Gretchen Mol), who lives across the street. Little does he know that Catherine is the lover of John F. Kennedy, and that he has suddenly become engulfed in events that will lead inexorably to the president's demise.

This is not the first time Cameron Bright has gotten into trouble with an older woman. He previously (at the age of 11!) courted Nicole Kidman in Birth (2004). That film was interesting on so many levels, and so is this. It's just plain naughty when it puts Adam and Catherine in same room, it's a touching coming of age story, when it deals with Adam's frustrations towards girls, friends, teachers and his parents, but it's also an effective thriller, whenever those shady guys show up.

Even though JFK is virtually absent from this film, it still manages to paint an interesting portrayal of the man behind the legend, and the problems he was up against. When frustrated secret agents pester Catherine endlessly, to get her to influence the president, we see it through the eyes of a young boy, who can't connect the dots. But we can, we know what terrible fate lurks ahead. The fact that half of the story - Catherine's part - is based on real events just makes it even better.

Deterrence (1999)

A snowstorm forces the American president (Kevin Pollak) to seek shelter at a small diner somewhere in Colorado, but in the middle of everything an international crises breaks out, forcing him to threaten Iraq with a nuclear attack. Amidst random patrons, military aids, and personal advisors, not all of whom agrees with him, the president must wrestle with the biggest decision any man can make.

This tight, little thriller is written and directed by former film critic Rod Lurie. Luckily the boneheaded, stubborn idealism, which destroys most of his films, is kept relatively in check here.

Still, this is not a subtle film, and the script is forced to tie quite a few knots on itself to make the story work and push the president into this terrible position. That's forgivable, because when the drama kicks into high gear the film works very well, and if nothing else, it'll give plenty of fuel for later discussions.

Thirteen Days (2000)

This intense thriller covers the Cuban missile crisis, as seen through the eyes of John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood), his brother Robert (Steven Culp) and their advisor Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner). It's a wonderfully crafted movie, and although it plays nearly 2,5 hrs. and is full of talky scenes, it's so slick and smooth it races by in no time.

They say history is written by the winners, and that's certainly true for this film. Admittedly, it's a very American film, and it often sees the world in only black and white. Perhaps that's okay in some situations, but I do wish it had been a little more nuanced in its portrayal of the battle-eager generals, who seem to be frothing at the mouth with the thought of pushing that button and starting a nuclear war.

Still, the occasional lack of nuances can't take much away from the real-life drama - a time when the will of a few good men brought the world back from the brink of nuclear war. Nor can it diminish the chilling realization that it would take only a few morons (I didn't say Republicans) to push us out on that ledge again.

Gabriel Over the White House (1933)

When Judson Hammond (Walter Huston) is elected President of the United States in the wake of The Great Depression, he seems woefully out of his depth, borderline ignorant. Then, following a reckless car accident, he wakes up a changed man - a man of action! In his fight to restore the country to its former glory, Hammond takes the presidency by the horns, steamrolls every man who gets in the way of his vision, and turns the world's proudest democracy into a dictatorship, in order to save it. Hammond has, literally, seen the light. And just to be clear, the light did come from above, and yes, the Gabriel in the title refers to the THE Gabriel, the archangel.

The movie looks and feels ANCIENT, but the story has lost none of its bite, it's still provocative and daring, 80 years later. Unlike the real presidents, Hammond is not bound by the shackles of democracy. He fearlessly takes on unemployment, challenges the congress, declares war on every gangster, bootlegger, and racketeer under the sun, and although his ruthless methods are highly questionable, it's hard not to be a little impressed by his results.

Is dictatorship okay, if it really IS in the service of the people and if it works? How is that for an opening line at a dinner party? No doubt about it, Gabriel Over the White House is both intense and quite fascinating to watch.



They say it doesn't really matter who's in the White House. I really wish that was true, considering the blabbering idiots the American people often elect, it would make it easier to sleep at night.

Regardless, is it really too much to ask for just a few of the qualities from the fictional presidents to seep into the real world?


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