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The focus of most of these comments has been on the film's perceived
political commentary on American politics.
Let's make one thing clear: This film is a satire, not a commentary; in my opinion it's not about Republicans or Democrats, or conservatives or liberals; it is about the nature of democracies.
The point that the film, "Bob Roberts", makes can be summed up very clearly. Here is the nature of democracies: Voters choose winners over losers, champions over whiners, statements of power over statements of sacrifice. The list goes on; people prefer form over function, youth over age, presentation/entertainment over substance.
This film does transcend political lines; but in it's context, lets take a look at the specifics. Bob Roberts is electable because his message is just vague and occluded enough by his presentation, that he seems likeable. His message is not unique or original; he speaks to the elements that have always appealed to the more right-wing or fascistic elements of society; marginalization of the weak (in this case, the poor), empowerment of the common man, family values, etc.
Roberts' opponent, Paiste, is a textbook liberal; but this contest is not about left vs. right. Paiste is an educated man, and a career politician. He acknowledges the challenges in the American economy. He actually has answers to the issues; whether they are politically favorable or not is not significant. Roberts, on the other hand, says nothing about the real issues; he appeals only to the emotions of the mob, and because he uses the medium of folk music, he offends the sensibilities of liberals (both in the movie, and in its audience), because he uses the authenticity of the 60's and its messages of change, and "perverts" them to express his messages of reactionism and exclusion.
And it works.
Tim Robbins has a winner here, and this film gets overlooked because it gets dragged into these conversations about Robbins' own political views, and whether the film is making a statement about Republicans or Democrats. But Robbins says something far more universal with this film; democracies are not safe from tyranny or fascism; all it takes is a charismatic reactionary who can manipulate the interests of the press and the political interests to rise to power by appealing to the worst elements of our psyche, for entertainment, glamour, and exclusionism. Please remember that Hitler came to power by appealing to the worst aspects of the people of his nation, and was quite successful in creating much evil from that. Being part of a free nation comes with a huge responsibility; to carefully consider who we elect and what we value, and to allow those debates to have meaning. "Bob Roberts" shows us how easily we can neglect that responsibility, and how easily voters can be sold an offensive, exclusionary message, when it is wrapped up in something more attractive than what's real.
This movie is a harrowing look at the reality of politics in the United States. The story shows how an evil man can utilize right wing themes and hot button issues to gain real power and influence the direction of this country. Robbins is great as the right wing, folk singer, businessman, racist, Senatorial candidate that is hoping to be Pennsylvania's voice in Washington. The sad thing is, as you watch the film, you see how easy it is for this horrible man to manipulate the media into getting him elected. By using good looks and off hand remarks candidates are able to steer elections in the direction they want them to go. Meanwhile, honesty takes a back seat to how well a candidate can croon a song. Truth trails behind what the media might be able to use as entertainment. The media is dazzled by fluff and sound bites, they turn a deaf ear to real issues. When I saw this film the first time, I was very uncomfortable. The film was too close to reality. Bob Roberts is a Joe McCarthy/Rush Limbaugh for the 1990's. Although they might seem harmless on the surface, they do pose real danger. This movie is important and should be seen by all voters. It tries to teach people to look at the facts and the real issues and put the fluff aside. Ahh, if only that could be done.
I am surprised that no one in this comments index noticed how
true-to-life this film turned out to be.
"Bob Roberts" was a 1992 'mock-umentry' about the election of a Republican know-nothing (the title character) to a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania; in the movie Roberts wins against a too-brainy-to win Democrat played by Gore Vidal. The real 1994 U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania featured Rick Santorum as the Republican candidate. Santorum not only had the same aggressively anti-intellectual outlook as Roberts (I understand his staff is afraid to leave him alone with the press lest he 'throw a brick'), he even used generous helpings of Roberts' faux-revolutionary rhetoric to claim that his election would be an empowerment of the common people of Pennsylvania against a murkily-described 'elite'. In fact, Santorum, like Roberts, was a front man for an economic interest - to wit, the health insurance industry - who bankrolled 95% of his lavish campaign and which was eager to replace his rival, Harris Wolford, who was an advocate for universal health coverage. Like the Vidal character, Wolford was disadvantaged by being a genuinely concerned person whose detailed worldview found it hard to stand effectively against the style of Santorum/Roberts.
Guess who represents our state today.
I didn't understand why Republicans were so offended by this movie. Bob Roberts's political affiliation had nothing to do with his dirty campaign tricks. Bob Roberts could just as easily have been a Democrat. This film is not mocking Republican dishonesty, but political dishonesty. Tim Robbins does a great job as an evil, hypocritical folk singer / politician, and there is a very good supporting cast. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but bitingly satirical and creepy.
Tim Robbins has made one heck of a statement with this film presenting politics as it really is, crooked and disturbing. The screenplay is brilliantly clever brimming with brutal honesty about the political battle in washington.Robbins plays the right-wing politician perfectly portraying a crooked yuppie business man willing to do anything to get elected to the US Senate a must see film one of the best films of the decade.
"Bob Roberts" is the writing and directing debut of the very talented actor
Tim Robbins. It is filmed in documentary style, telling the story of Bob
Roberts, the conservative son of hippie parents who is running for the U.S.
Senate seat from Pennsylvania. His message is conveyed through a series of
folk songs. His albums and videos are reminiscent of Bob Dylan (The
Freewheelin' Bob Roberts), but his songs have titles like "Drugs Stink" and
"This Land Was Made For Me" and lyrics like "what's right is right, what's
left is wrong".
It's funny to see the very liberal Robbins play a character like this. The songs, written by Robbins and his brother David, are very witty and biting and get his point across beautifully.
Bob pulls a crazy stunt near the end to try to sway voters in his direction which I'm surprised no real politician has done. James Spader does an absolute perfect parody of a news anchor. A very funny movie, particularly the songs Robbins sings. Brilliant satire. The final shot in this movie, like the one in Robbins' Cradle Will Rock, is very powerful.
I can understand why Republicans would be upset by this film, but I think that Democrats and/or small-"l" liberals should squirm when they watch this, too. The real sting in this film is that, devious and repulsive as Bob Roberts is, he is far more charismatic and interesting than his tired rival, Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal), and he has managed to appropriate all of the weapons of the 1960s protest movements (including that most sacred insitution of all, folk music) and use them with a vigour that is scarily convincing. Roberts has the adulation of young men and women (watch for a young Jack Black as a smitten fan), the power of the record industry, and access to concerts halls and media coverage to get his message across. What does the left have? A rabid underground journalist (Bugs Raplin), a goofy "Saturday Night Live"-type show (Cutting Edge Live) that may once have been edgy, but now just seems silly (even Roberts himself is a fan), a tired old senator droning on about social programs (Paiste), and a few strident voices crying in the wilderness, (including the journalist played by Lynne Thigpen). Roberts has replaced Bob Dylan as the "voice of his generation" (Robbins includes a hilarious riff on Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" video from "Don't Look Back"). Robbins' real target here is how the ideals of the 60s have failed miserably, how times have changed back, and how greed, self-interest and intolerance have become the new order of the 1990s (and continue today). Roberts is *not* George Bush (senior or junior)--he's a much more frightening animal who shows up just how the voices of dissent have dwindled into insignificance.
An amazing work!
Twice I had to confirm the release date of 1992 since this film's precise and uncanny applicability to the events of this last year were amazing. The political dynamic under which this country suffers today - along with the cabal currently installed in the White House that employed precisely the same tactics as defined in this film - were recreated, or more accurately foretold, with an uncanny truthfulness, precise focus, and vivid clarity.
Tim Robbins' direction, writing, and acting were all phenomenal; I never really fully appreciated his talent and brilliance until this film; Gore Vidal's contribution was a special treat from both a fine actor and a remarkable intellect.
Well worth the time - and a replay or two to capture, fully, all of the nuance and insight of this fine work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Whether you like it or not, Bob Roberts is here to stay. He's that kind
of a guy, the kind that can sweep you off your feet, rally the crowds
into a frenzy and have them eating out of his hand. He's the Perfect
Politician, and that's why he's going to win... even if it takes a
little manipulation here and there and maybe even some slight
legerdemain. But you don't have to know that. All you have to know is
that he's the guy with that open smile, he's the guy who can sing a
folk song, he's the Poster Boy for the American Dream, the one who can
make this country a Country and make us proud to be an American
citizen. He's the man you'll see on every news channel -- Headline
News, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC -- and he'll make you feel good about
yourself. He'll talk about promise, he'll embrace the people, and the
people will love him, because he's their Hero.
This is one sharp tack of a movie, and one that every thinking person should sit on and feel the prick and maybe even see a drop of blood come out like a red flag. Tim Robbins is the new Orson Welles in the fact that he's able to direct, write, and star in his movie about corruption in the political arena. With this movie he's made his own little moving picture that depicts what we see on a daily basis once election times comes sway -- candidate against candidate, using the worst possible tactics to make the other seem unworthy of a vote, always promising to make things better, improve the status of life, and making sure they look as primped and handsome and camera friendly as humanly possible, because it's a known fact that handsome men gain more votes than men who look like Ebenezer Scrooge.
And Robbins has those oddly engaging looks of his that make him the ideal person to cast in the role of the politician that is swaying the masses to his will in Pennsylvania. His is the face that looks angelic in many ways, but one that holds a little menace just under the surface. Maybe it's the coldness of his eyes, but when he plays characters like this he seems like he could slap you blind without a second's notice and immediately resume his camera-ready smile in no time. And how many politicians don't already look like him? I'd like to know. Bob Roberts is a summation of all of the wanna-be governors and presidents that we've seen display their talent for jab. We all want to follow someone, which is why the movie becomes this monster towards the end, and in one short scene Jack Black all but goes bonkers in his support for Roberts. That's the reality of the political game, and just another part of who we are as Americans.
I was fascinated by this self-contradictory, sometimes maddening film. I
had only seen a snippet of it before, the brilliant song parody of a
right-wing folksinger singing about welfare recipients who "complain and
complain and complain and complain and complaaaaain!" I was impressed by
the quality of this ditty and rented the movie.
Although billed as a comedy, I found this one to be a generally oil-and-water mixture of paranoid leftist diatribe and political comedy. Everytime a stereotypical "Republican" character elicited the response in my brain "nobody acts like THAT" I remembered, "oh yes, it's a comedy". Although I laughed less and my heart beat faster as the movie progressed...
I guess what disturbed me about this picture is it's off-kilter perspective. The viewer realizes that this slimy Machiavellian manipulator needs to be opposed. But the opposition seems to be almost equally unsympathetic. The screaming, cursing, holier-than-thou Saturday night live cast. The urbane liberal running against Bob who maintains that the CIA and National Security Council run the country. (Yeah, right...they can't even figure out that people can fly planes into buildings). The only rational perspective comes from the British documentary reporter, who views our political system with dry distaste. Was Tim Robbins making the statement that all Americans are crazy, including American filmmakers, and that only Europeans can be rational? If so, I strongly disagree (see Exhibits WWI and II)
The other disappointment for me was the downward spiral of song quality as the movie progresses. "Drugs stink"? Songs like this wouldn't bring even the zombified audiences the movie postulates into a frenzy.
Despite its flaws, however, I found Bob Roberts well worth watching for its star performances (Tim was great), its innovative camera work, and its emotional impact. I'd give it an 8.
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