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Review: Recount

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on May 22, 2008 6:15PM

2008_5recount.jpg There's been a certain amnesia in the collective memory when it comes to the 2000 presidential election. Part of that can probably be traced to 9/11. The rest is pure buyer's remorse. And perhaps now that Bush has some of the lowest approval ratings ever recorded, it might be the perfect time to revisit that perverse moment, without precedent in modern US history, where for 36 days we weren't sure who our next president would be.

Every one of us already knows how this story ends. But Recount, which premieres on HBO this Sunday, is so skillfully made that it generates more nail-biting suspense than any other recent movie we can think of. The cleverest choice that director Jay Roach and writer Danny Strong make is to keep Bush and Gore largely offscreen. Instead we see how things play out among the campaign staffers and lawyers, including Gore campaign chairman William Daley. Remember him? When Bush counsel Ben Ginsburg (played by Bob Balaban at his slimiest) first sees news coverage of Daley's decision to challenge the Florida vote count, he rails at the TV, "His daddy stole the election for JFK and now he's gonna steal it for Gore!"

Didn't happen. The movie nimbly shifts between the complicated succession of suits and countersuits, press conferences and rebuttal press conferences. Along the way we get a juicy characterization of Katherine Harris (courtesy of Laura Dern) as a self-absorbed clothes horse who seems equally puzzled and envigorated by her sudden thrust into the spotlight. The story's climax, a Supreme Court decision that still boggles the mind, is the stuff of Kafka. Particularly since there's no reason why it couldn't happen again.

To some of course the whole movie will smack of Hollywood revisionism. Undoubtedly events and characters have been compressed and fictionalized for dramatic effect. But much like Barbarians at the Gate, there's an awful lot at its core that'll stick in your craw.