Andrew Shepherd is approaching the end of his first term as President of the United States. He's a widower with a young daughter and has proved to be popular with the public. His election seems assured. That is until he meets Sydney Ellen Wade, a paid political activist working for an environmental lobby group. He's immediately smitten with her and after several amusing attempts, they finally manage to go on a date (which happens to be a State dinner for the visiting President of France). His relationship with Wade opens the door for his prime political opponent, Senator Bob Rumson, to launch an attack on the President's character, something he could not do in the previous election as Shepherd's wife had only recently died. Written by
Director Rob Reiner and Aaron Sorkin, fresh off their success with the film A Few Good Men, came up with this gem more then thirteen years ago. With a top notch cast and production values The American President is the continuation of an old Hollywood tradition of films where nobility wins out in the game of politics. While that might seem like a bad thing the fact is the film is all the better for it.
First off there's the cast. Michael Douglas gives one of his finest performances as President Andrew Shepherd. The same can be said of his love interest and co-star Annette Benning in her performance as lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade. Together they have a strong chemistry whether it be the film's comedic, romantic or dramatic moments.
Then there's the supporting cast. Martin Sheen, Anna Deavere Smith, Samantha Mathis, David Paymer and Michael J. Fox give fantastic performances as the White House staff with Sheen and Fox in particular getting moments to shine. Richard Dreyfuss gives a delicious performance as Presidential contender Bob Rumson. Even in the small roles the actors (like Joshua Malina and John Mahoney) give good performances.
The film's production values are just as strong as its cast. The White House sets are excellent and give the feeling of being in the real place. The same can be said of virtually all the sets in the film. Also of special mention is the score by Marc Shaiman, especially in the opening credits of the film.
Then there is the script by Arraon Sorkin. Sorkin's effortlessly blends together the elements of a good romantic comedy and a good political based film to create a hybrid of the two. Unlike other attempts at mixing comedy/satire with a political film that often end up failing to be successful as either (such as the more recent film Man of the Year for instance) here it works. In one scene you can have a speech about something political and have a romantic comedy scene the next. The result is that the styles don't clash but rather compliment each other nicely. It's easy to see where the genesis of Sorkin's later magnum opus The West Wing came from.
The American President is a first rate film. With its top notch performances, excellent production values and a first rate script it's hard to beat that. The only shame of the film is the fact it didn't any major awards because it definitely deserved to.
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