Late in 2006, President Jimmy Carter tours the U.S. promoting his provocative "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Demme's camera follows Carter from city to city, home to Plains (population 635), visiting a Habitat for Humanity site in New Orleans, and talking on radio and TV with Teri Gross, Charlie Rose, Diane Rehm, Jay Leno, Larry King, Wolf Blitzer, Tavis Smiley, and Al Jazeera and Israeli pundits, discussing Palestine's plight and the policies of Israel. Critics speak as well. Between events, Carter talks about Camp David, recent travels, being married, speaking Spanish, and wisdom he learned from Rachel Clark, his nanny. A montage of speeches, awards, and travels ends the film. Written by
mostly a 'fly-on-the-wall' approach to the former President...
...but despite some of Jonathan Demme's techniques to making Man from Plains, which are either interesting (the skewed camera on the television screens, the title cards listed in big font above the locations in some scenes) or off-putting (the usage of music is overbearing), his movie should be called the proverbial 'fair and balanced.' There are few issues in the world that ignites the firestorm of debate like Israel and Palestine land and peace talks (the abortion issue is right up there). Jimmy Carter placed himself into the pit of controversy a year and a half ago with his book "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid", and director Demme does his best to reveal not simply Carter defending his points on various interview shows and programs, but to get the other side's voice as well. Carter isn't let off very easily, and rightfully so. But had Demme gone too far either way in depicting the reaction to the book, then the documentary would get damaged by the effect.
This might make Man From Plains seem slightly 'safe', but its strongest points are just revealing, without pushing a whole lot of stylistic fervor in the way, this man in his complexity, conflicts, resolve, and in his comfortable position as about as well-respected a ex-President one could ask for. He has a lot to boast about with some of his past accomplishments (some which we might forget as what he might have not done), but a lot of his output and speeches and very concise answers are based on experience. It's easy to pin down Carter as he's labeled- anti-Semitic, plagiarist- without either reading his book(s) or seeing what is really going on past the veneer of the media's depiction. Just seeing the interviewees (with some exceptions) repeating the named "apartheid" for incisive affect is enough to see what can be taken out of context.
Does this mean that Man From Plains reveals everything that could be about Carter on this book tour with the amount of depth one might hope for with an ex-president? Maybe not. But for what it's worth, Demme delivers two hours of potent coverage, and even creates a narrative around his detractors/protesters (i.e. rabbis/Dershowitz/Brandeis) that adds a little weight to what would otherwise be Demme's equivalent to Moore's the Big One. As a portrait and a compact look at a hot-button issue, it's very good if not mind-expanding. 7.5/10
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