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Set primarily along the signing tour of his latest controversial book,
Jimmy Carter Man from Plains takes us inside the private life of the
much maligned 39th President of the United States.
Politics aside, it is a well made and enjoyable two hours. Most enjoyable were the few occasions that showed the ex-Prez at home in Plains or interacting with makeup artists, town people at a BBQ, or on set prior to being on the air.
The documentary primarily deals with talking about his choice to use the word "Apartheid" in the title and charges of anti-Semite stances in the book, of which Carter fervently disagrees.
The documentary is not by any stretch a thorough commentary on Carter's presidency or political takes, it is more a one month "slice of life" of a very active, 83 year old ex-President that still is trying to remain relevant some 27 years out of office.
I highly recommend it even if you are not a big Carter supporter. It is not often that we get the chance to ride along with a President, or ex- President, and it was an enjoyable and informative ride!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What a wonderful documentary! Jonathan Demme does an excellent job of
presenting Jimmy Carter as a sensitive, compassionate, humble, brave
and extremely intelligent man. Of course Carter is only human, and the
film shows that as well as he gets impatient with his traveling
companion or shows a petty concern over something we can all relate to
(hitting traffic on the way to the airport).
The title suggested to me that it would be more of a documentary about Carter's entire life, but Demme devotes the majority of screen time following him on his book tour as he promotes and debates a book that he purposely gave a provocative title to: "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." However, it's amazing how many little nuggets and insights are sprinkled throughout giving information on everything from his childhood, educational background, insights into his marriage, his achievement in brokering a peace accord between Israel and Egypt, and much, much more. On another level, it provides an alternative viewpoint to Bush's foreign policy.
But what's most impressive is the extraordinary amount of character that is on display here: Carter remains unbelievably centered and unwavering in the face of a windstorm of ignorant ad hominem attacks by critics that obviously have not read his book. Ultimately, "Jimmy Carter Man From Plains" is an inspirational portrait of an amazing man.
Depending on your political proclivities, those expecting a full-blown
biopic of the 39th President of the United States will be either
severely disappointed that it focuses primarily on his 2006/7 book
signing tour, or exhilarated that it is not a two-hour Biography
Channel special of his life's highlights. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme
("Silence of the Lambs", "Philadelphia") is no stranger to the demands
of the documentary format, although his previous efforts have been
concert films, 1984's "Stop Making Sense" with the Talking Heads and
1998's "Storefront Hitchcock" with English singer Robyn Hitchcock. This
time, he and cinematographer Declan Quinn followed Jimmy Carter, spry
and fit for 83, on his extensive tour to promote his controversial 2006
bestseller, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" about the indignities
faced by Palestinians living in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The book's deliberately provocative title was designed to spark
discussion, and the thrust of the 2007 film is to show the
media-intensified firestorm Carter faced as a result.
To his immense credit, Demme lets Carter speak for himself in the film and doesn't allow a narrator to provide color commentary on the former president's hectic touring schedule. What comes across is a man rightfully proud of the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, and has most recently taken to heart his sense of responsibility as a private citizen and former leader to share the devastation he has seen the Palestinians experience in the occupied areas cut off from the rest of the world. It's an arc that Demme explores through an effective use of archival footage, interviews with key figures (including Carter's wife of 62 years, Rosalynn, who speaks movingly about what led Menachem Begin to sign the final treaty), and the robust, even-keeled presence Carter maintains throughout despite what seems to be a dizzying pace and the consistent critical onslaught. Much of Carter's politic demeanor can be attributed to his faith, including nightly Bible readings with Rosalynn (no matter where he is), but Demme also shows the discipline Carter employs with his handlers and in his regular regimen of swimming laps.
It's definitely a favorable impression of the former president, which is unlikely to sit well with detractors who view him as a treasonous rabble-rouser, but the effect is understandable given that some of Carter's more vocal opponents refused to be filmed, including Dr. Kenneth Stein, who resigned as a Carter Center fellow (of whom Carter dismissed as an absentee member), and a roomful of protesting rabbi elders in Phoenix. Fortunately, renowned Harvard professor and attorney Alan Dershowitz is included as one of the most vocal opponents of Carter's book. His fair-minded comments provide a critical counterbalance to the positive image of Carter, and interestingly, it is never really explained why Carter would not face Dershowitz in a public debate at Brandeis University, who initially turned down Carter's proposal to lecture for free. Intriguingly, Demme takes a behind-the-scenes approach to the various media interviews, whether it's Terry Gross, Charlie Rose, Wolf Blitzer, or Tavis Smiley. In turn, Carter expertly modulates his points to fit the format, including an amusingly deadpan confession to Jay Leno on who really wears the pants in the Carter marriage.
Demme also incorporates the other key priorities in Carter's life to provide more dimension to the portrait - his dedicated work on Habitat for Humanity and as caretaker of the land his family has owned for nearly two centuries around Plains. The parts of the film that drag unnecessarily are more logistical in nature traveling repeatedly with his kowtowing Simon & Schuster publicist and preparing the customers for the book signings. At 125 minutes, the film runs a mite long and could have benefited from another editing session. Extras are plentiful on the 2008 DVD starting with over thirty minutes of additional scenes and a half-hour featurette on the making of the soundtrack. Neither feels essential though an extended sequence showing a signing at Costco brought out a perturbed woman who tersely told Carter he should be tried for treason. Demme and producer Neda Armian also contribute a very thoughtful commentary track. Trailers for ten other Sony Classics films on DVD complete the extras.
I've long felt that Mr Carter is most likely the greatest man to ever
occupy the White House. This film reinforced that. I've long been a
staunch advocate of Israel and the right of Israel to protect itself.
This movie (and the book around which it revolves) did nothing to
change that. What did change, what I found really embarrassing was the
behavior of the advocates of Israel shown in this film. I say this as
someone who lost a close friendship with an Arab over an on-going
argument regarding Israel when I quoted Golda Meir: There will only be
peace when they love their children more than they hate us. But it goes
President Carter reminds us that, in order to seek peace, we must take risks and have open minds, open arms and open hearts. The "pro-Israeli" protesters and interviewees in this film seem to care nothing about ending the nonsense that has touched every single Israeli and Palestinian Arab family over these past 60 years. If seeing and listening to President Carter hadn't been such a thrill, I might have left this film with great disdain for these opponents of peace. Instead, I feel as though I was allowed a two hour glimpse at the greatness of a man who will never be appreciated appropriately in history books. He's an incredible man. What prevents me from giving this a ten is that the editing and direction of this film were far from incredible.
...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
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It is no surprise that in the last few years President Carter has been vilified; called a liar, anti-Semite, plagiarist and a bigot just because he has the courage to speak out the truth. The anti-Carter rhetoric reached a crescendo with the launching of his book, "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid." This documentary can be seen as an answer to the unfair personal attacks on Jimmy Carter, the man of peace. The documentary follows President Carter on his book promotion trail, the numerous hurdles he has to overcome to get his point of view across (yes I am talking about a former US President) and the Zionist hawks like Wolf Blitzer and Alan Dershowitz who would waste no opportunity to sling mud on this distinguished politician's career. That being said, this documentary is not merely a documentary about Carter's personal battles it is much more than that. The documentary provides an important message and that of an issue like Palestine which has been until now selectively filtered through the American media with an undoubtedly heavy bias in favor of Israel. This documentary like the book brings this taboo subject to the forefront and it is during the last few minutes towards the end that we see when Carter is addressing the college students, that how important it is for the American public specially the young generation to see the both sides of the story of a conflict which has repercussions on the entire world and be the judge themselves. The documentary tries and delivers this message through the experiences of Jimmy Carter and some skillful direction from Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia). Some have criticized the documentary as long, complicated and boring. Carter may not have the charisma of Bill Clinton or the exciting narrative style of Michael Moore. Nor does he manage to deal with "hot" issues like global warming as done in An Inconvenient Truth. What he does is present an intelligent, honest and straight from the heart effort to spark a debate among Americans on how they can contribute in bringing an end to the present situation in the Middle East, specially the Israel-Palestinian conflict. I highly recommend every American to watch this documentary and be the judge themselves. As the famous saying goes "don't judge a book by its cover"! 10/10
Perhaps this should have been entitled 'The President and His Book' because most of the documentary is about the book tour that Jimmy Carter took when he published his controversial book 'Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid'. We follow Jimmy as he crosses the U.S. to promote his book. Nevertheless we get a very candid and close-up view of this ex-President. He comes off very well - an honest, forthright individual who has accomplished much since he left the Presidency in 1980. Compared to the last 8 years (2000-08), here is man who can express his feelings and fears. I couldn't help but feel as I was watching, that if another, less well known individual had written the same book, the media up-roar over it would have been far less pronounced.
"Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains" is not a biography of the 39th
President of the United States; nor is it a chronicle of his time as
President, or even of his work with Habitat for Humanities, though both
are touched upon in the course of the film. Rather it is a documentary
account of a national book tour Carter conducted in late 2006 to
promote his controversial and provocatively entitled tome, "Palestine:
Peace Not Apartheid." Carter basically gives two reasons why he felt
compelled to write the book: 1) the fact that there had been no peace
talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians in the then- five or
six years of the Bush administration, and 2) what he sees as the unfair
treatment of the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and the Gaza
Anyone daring (or foolish) enough to venture into this minefield of a topic risks detonating intense passions on both sides of the conflict, but Carter's history and reputation as a peacemaker between the two aggrieved parties would appear to give him some cover on the issue. Well, not exactly, for we see many, mostly pro-Israeli groups and individuals, protesting and challenging him as he travels around the country providing interviews on this hyper-sensitive subject.
As a movie, "Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains" is no more than serviceable, even though it comes with an impressive pedigree, namely Jonathan Demme for a director. It is obviously sympathetic to Carter's position and it nicely illustrates the basic decency and humanity of a man who has hit the pinnacle of power yet still manages to remain true to the small town values of humility and service on which he was raised. But it's also unimaginative and redundant and probably isn't going to do much to assuage the concerns of those who hold opposing views to his.
It's worth seeing for its historical significance though.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although entertaining, this movie approaches current events with a
depth rarely seen in American media.
The filmmakers followed Carter on a book signing tour after he challenged to current mythology that Israel is always right. They use the tension provided as people, most who haven't read the book, attack.
The book was titled, Palestine: Peace or Apartheid. The movie could have been titled Carter: Man of Peace. His efforts to bring peace to the world and the way he embodies peacemaking in his daily life were moving.
One of the most telling scenes is in the extra footage included with the DVD. A woman waits in a long book-signing line to tell President Carter she thinks he should be tried as a traitor. The look on her face and her obvious lack a clue what to do next when he responds quietly and moderately and moves on, is classic. (I wonder if the producers would cut it differently after the success of those Borat movies in which people didn't mind looking stupid as long as they got attention.)
Forget the subject matter, this movie is boring as hell. You want to see some good documentary's? Try watching the excellent "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara" or another great film called "Why We Fight!" I realize he is an ex-president, but if this (the Documentary) was around any other person it would be considered trash and would have never seen the light of day. What's worse is that it is directed by the extremely talented Oscar winning ("Silence of the Lambs") director Johnathan Demme. Anyway don't watch this especially if you really don't like ho-hum documentaries. It almost seems like everything he says just doesn't matter. It's like people put up with him because he is an ex-president and he at least deserves the respect from the office he once held. However it's like people are saying oh "let him talk, he won't be around much longer." It reminds me of how people stare at the homeless man on the corner then forget about it as soon as you go by. I don't know anything about what he did or didn't do as president, but from a plain (no pun intended) movie/documentary standpoint this was one of the worst I've seen. Don't bother watching this unless you are a die hard Jimmy Carter fan or like to watch every single documentary ever made. Skip this and watch the other two I recommended.
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