User ReviewsReview this title
With a sizable cast, it's perhaps not surprising that the quality of the performances varied as widely as they did. Richard Gere does an excellent job as Peter St. John, the packager for candidates running in several different elections through the course of the movie. Denzel Washington displays a reptilian cold-bloodedness as his antagonist, a quality he will bring to full fruition in the later "Training Day" (2001). J.T. Walsh, one of the best at playing villains, is also good in his limited role. Kate Capshaw and E.G. Marshall hold up their parts well, but Julie Christie and especially Gene Hackman are not at their best here. Beatrice Straight received a well-deserved Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actress. After her big scene, there wasn't a piece of the set that didn't have her teethmarks all over it.
The cinematography, by Andrzej Bartkowiak, was terrific, and the musical score complemented the film well, particularly the repeated use of Bennie Goodman's "Sing, sing, sing" with its driving drum solo (by Gene Krupa in the original recording, I believe) used to symbolize St. John's ambition.
Two trivia points: The television game show St. John turns on in his hotel room when he discovers his phone has been bugged is, appropriately, "The Price is Right." The rock outcrop scenery for the political commercial supposedly being filmed in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico is actually part of Vasquez Rocks in southern California, a backdrop that has been used in countless movies and television shows.
As political films go, "Power" is much better than average and well worth viewing. Rating: 7/10.
It was the script, Sidney, and someone should have told you. Wag The Dog is the political gem that works; The Candidate or even better, the original Manchurian Candidate with Sinatra are more persuasive--but if you like the stars, this one passes the time pleasantly.
We are supposed to accept Pete as a ruthless and cynical individual, and he is certainly prepared to act for anyone regardless of their political beliefs. His four clients are, politically speaking, very different. Cepeda is a left-wing populist, Cade a right-wing businessman with ties to the oil industry, Stannard a social liberal and Furman another businessman but a man with few political ideas even though he is anxious for a political career. Cade is hoping to win the Senate seat being vacated by Sam Hastings, who is not merely a former client of Pete's but also a personal friend. Hastings holds environmentalist views which are diametrically opposed to Cade's pro-business opinions, and Pete suspects that his friend may have come under pressure to stand down from the Senate. Pete is forced to take a hard look at himself and to decide whether (as his ex-wife Ellen and his former partner Wilfred believe) he owes his success to a lack of principles.
The film came out in 1986, a time when America was just starting to recover from the trauma of the Watergate scandal of the previous decade. Although many (principally Republicans) believed that Ronald Reagan, who had just won his second successive landslide victory, had restored the American people's faith in their political system, there were many others (not only Democrats but also many foreign observers) who felt that the American people had been the victims of a gigantic political con-trick, that they had been induced to vote for Reagan by a slick political marketing campaign. A film about a slick political marketing man therefore seemed very topical in the mid-eighties.
The film was directed by Sidney Lumet, and could have been an opportunity to do for the American political system what Lumet had done for the American media in the brilliantly satirical "Network" around a decade earlier. Unfortunately, it never really works in the same way as "Network" had done, for a number of reasons. The first is the acting. "Network" had at its centre a towering performance from Peter Finch, well-supported by excellent contributions from William Holden and Faye Dunaway. There is nothing really comparable in "Power". Although Richard Gere is good in the earlier part of the film as the unscrupulous smooth operator, he seems less convincing later on when Pete rediscovers his principles. The supporting actors are not very memorable; there are some big names in the cast, but Julie Christie as Ellen, Gene Hackman as Wilfred and E. G. Marshall as Sam have all done much better things than this. Perhaps the best is Denzel Washington as Arnold Billing, Cade's ruthless public relations man.
The second reason for the film's relative lack of success is that it never actually succeeds in convincing us that Pete really is all that unprincipled. He may not care very much whether his clients come from the left or right of the ideological spectrum, but we never actually see him do anything unethical until, ironically, after his supposed "conversion" when he supplies confidential information to his client's opponent. We see commercials he makes in support of Furman and Stannard, but both are very mild and defensive in tone. A really unscrupulous politician like Richard Nixon, notorious for his use of "dirty tricks" against opponents, would have sacked Pete from his campaign team for being a pussy.
The third reason is that there are too many competing story lines. It would have made for a more dramatic and powerful film if Lumet and the scriptwriter David Himmelstein had concentrated on just one, preferably the Senatorial race in Ohio, which is the most important and most potentially interesting of the four stories. The Latin American storyline seems to be dropped quite early on- we never learn whether Cepeda becomes President of his country- but the Ohio story is continually interrupted as Pete jets off to Seattle or Santa Fe.
"Power" is not altogether a bad film. The problem is that it could have been so much better. The idea of a film examining political corruption, not just the corruption of those who seek to wield power through holding political office but also the corruption of those who seek to wield power by influencing public opinion, was a good one. It could have been the occasion for a brilliant film. Unfortunately, "Power" tries to be that film but falls some way short of what it could have been. 6/10
I felt the movie was very accurate in showing us what happens in a major league PR Firm. And as it turns out the side comments Pete St John makes (Gere) and his staff show the true challenges their job entails. It's both educational and accurate.
I liked the movie a lot. It has inspired me to work in the PR field. And I recommend anyone to watch it and learn from it.
Sidney Lumet needs to go back to the fierce one man shows he did in the seventies (i.e, Serpico) and stop trying to recapture his success with "12 Angry Men" and "Fail Safe". It hasn't worked yet Sidney, and it most likely never will. leave the ensemble dramas to Altman.
* / * * * *
"Power" is powerful medicine for those unable to get some sleep. Buy this as a CD or VHS and keep it in your bedroom for those nights when you are wide awake.
Those who liked the film did so because they find a political reason for it. It was written in the 1980s and apparently for no particular reason at all other than to make some quick bucks...which it did not.
Reviewers and public held the project in such low esteem that only a few critics and political zealots bother to comment on it.
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
The film actually fits into a minor genre -- one in which a politician must learn all about what sociologists call "the presentation of self." It's the difference between perception and substance. Of course we all do it every day. It's essential that we slant our behavior in ways suitable to our audience. None of us talks to the boss the same way we talk to our spouses or our children. But it's particularly tough on politicians because they're cast as role models. The audience they have to satisfy is a great BIG one and often unforgiving.
Anyway, Gere pursues his job with zeal. He loves it. He carries around a set of drum sticks and when he's relaxing he taps out some uptempo paradiddles from Benny Goodman's uptempo jazz recordings. That, I would guess, is one of the contributions of the director, Sidney Lumet, and he makes good use of that little bit of business. When Gere is finally confronted by the manager of one of his candidates and told frankly how rotten their jobs really are, Gere is later seen turning uncharacteristically pensive. He still holds the two drum sticks, but he's not tapping out a fast tune in in his head. The sticks are pressed against his cheek.
But it's not an especially believable moment because the revelation -- from an almost unrecognizably youthful Denzel Washington -- should never have come as a big surprise to him. If he hasn't realized before that he has the methods and scruples of a Frito salesman he's pretty dumb.
The script itself lets the movie down a bit, for a couple of reasons. The two principle weaknesses, so it seems, are that it treats the manipulation of politicians' images as revelatory. Gere advises a candidate for governor of New Mexico to shed his dark blue suit and tie and adopt a cowboy outfit and to forget about long-term goals and just spout inanities about "America's spirit" and "the freedoms we hold dear" -- and this is supposed to surprise us? US? Now? In 2011? It was all done better in "The Candidate" and in "A Face In The Crowd," years earlier.
The other major weakness in the script is that it's confusing. We see Gere handling so many candidates -- and confronting rival candidates and their managers -- and dealing with Gene Hackman as a drunken has-been -- that it's hard to keep all the threads straight. Sometimes I didn't know who was who. It would have enhanced the drama if the script had stuck with just one or two candidates and their minions.
It's not a stupid movie though. It doesn't take sides. It doesn't insult our intelligence -- well, not much, anyway -- although it lacks sophistication. Lumet has directed it efficiently and the performances are all up to par, although the movie as a whole belongs strictly to Richard Gere. I suppose there really are characters like Gere's, dashing around in airplanes from city to city, jitterbug music whirling around in their heads, women falling at their feet, the shekels rolling in, ordering millionaires around. But I don't know why they don't stroke out after a year or so of this frenzied life style. I had to do a double Xanax just watching it.
The execution of this story is done in a very bland way. There is none of the usual Sidney Lumet magic to be seen in this story. The photography looks bland and all the actors look rather silly. Richard Gere's moustache looks really silly. So does Gene Hackman's "polish" accent. There is no real suspense in this story. No chemistry between the actors. It all looks terribly bland and dated.
Only 17 reviews for this movie, that says a lot. This is one of the few flops talented director Sidney Lumet has made. Watch the classic "Network" instead by the same director, that movie is old as well, but has tons of emotions and a very suspenseful and thought provoking story, all of which are lacking in "Power".
This is by far one of the most boring movies I've had the pleasure to try and watch lately. I found the DVD lying around at my friend's house, and I made the sad mistake of not burning it.
I am unable to tell any details without spoiling the movie because there are only about 5 details to this movie. Just try to imagine someone making a movie about things on c-span only the fictional movie is 10 times less interesting than the most boring debate on c-span.
I think there is a conspiracy somewhere in this movie, but I was unable to tell exactly what it was after I gouched my eyeballs out and threw them at Richard Gere.