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Pete St. John is a powerful and successful political consultant, with clients spread around the country. When his long-time friend and client, Ohio senator Sam Hastings, decides to quit politics, he is rapidly drafted to help with the campaign of the man destined to succeed him, unknown and mysterious businessman Jerome Cade. In parallel, and unaware of the potential dangers, he proceeds to unravel the mystery surrounding Hastings dropping out, with the aide of his ex-wife, a prominent Washington-based journalist. But interests more powerful than local arm wrestling are at stake, and things start going awry.Written by
A semi-realistic look at the illusionary political campaigns
Sidney Lumet's "Power" makes an analysis on how political campaigns are made and the work of people behind it like Pete St. John (Richard Gere), a media consultant chosen to work for a unknown candidate for Ohio senate, the businessman Jerome Cade (J.T. Walsh) who is about to take the seat of an more experienced Senator (E.G. Marshall) longtime friend of Pete. Pete's unsure if this man will make the same good things his old friend did while as member of the Congress but he takes the challenge and accept the job.
Pete will make things work out, after all he's the best man in his business, young, talented and ambitious with an enormous taste for the power (the biggest aphrodisiac of all, some might say). But, in this particular campaign he'll join forces with Arnold Billing (Denzel Washington), a unscrupulous public relations who doesn't trust Pete and vice versa, and while working on promoting the new Senator, Pete investigates Billing trying to figure out what he and his associates have to hide from him. And of course the other side will do the same and that will give something to St. John reflect on his way of living and the way he conduces things (e.g. the manipulated video campaign of a Latin politician trying to save a girl during a protest; Pete was behind everything telling how the man should act in order to get sympathy from his voters). Luckily, on his side there's old friends like his ex-wife, the journalist Ellen (Julie Christie) and his former partner in business Wilfrid (Gene Hackman), now a drunken, decadent and highly ethical man who no longer makes good campaigns for his clients.
David Himmelstein's screenplay fascinates us for showing the importance of a candidate's image and how influential media consultants can be in doing marvelous (and totally manipulated) campaigns. One small thing makes a huge difference in getting elected or not. "Power" has a realistic view of money and power and how they work together but there's a catch in the final moments that almost ruins the film. This realism which was working quite well succumbed to a happy ending where good idealism and honesty wins over the power of corruption, lies and deceptions, quite rare back in the 1980's and even more now in the 21st century, specially when it comes to politics. The movie denied itself with this; the writer's rhetoric failed at this point but it's nothing so harmful, it's just a little contradiction.
However, the script has another problem, this one concerning the motivations behind the characters, what they were fighting for, what they were up against; there's too many sides (Cade's working for powerful people like him, who seems to be dealing with oil from the Arabs; the idealist junior candidate played by Matt Salinger wants to protect the environment; and there's another one but we cannot care about him); it was all confusing, muddled, quite complicated to follow everyone and everything. To give an example of another work directed by Sidney Lumet on a similar subject of media that worked better with these side issues "Network" was terrific and effectively great, we all knew which character was standing for and why.
Just like "Network" this also has big names in the casting but the performances pale in comparison. Gere is quite comfortable in the main role, even though most critics argue he wasn't a good choice; I enjoyed him playing this kind of guy who seems to be a villain but it turns out he's not that bad; Christie is good; Hackman was very underused and Beatrice Straight was quite distractive as the old Senator's wife. The movie offers a highlight to Denzel Washington playing a tough type to crack, the real antagonist even though this is not being the usual hero versus villain film. By far, Denzel is the one you can't take your eyes off for the whole thing.
Highly watchable for what the story has to say, the lessons some of us can learn with elections and how illusionary they can be. "Power" indeed is a powerful drama. 9/10
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