Art always loves and hates authority figures, and what persona better embodies this notion than the president of the United States, the undisputed protagonist of the movies we discuss today?
This article looks at an eclectic range of cinematic forays around the White House‘s prominent number-one guest.
It is a cross-section of very different genres that more or less seriously embrace drama/thriller, action/horror in a political context with imaginative at least boldness.
Through fiction, we delve into the behind-the-scenes labyrinth of power where the most challenging decisions are made, the ones never going through a vote but transforming millions of lives for better or worse with a simple stroke of a pen on a classified document.
Jumping nimbly between truth and imagination, we propose something provocative but never superficial, dull, or trivial.
And then so much worse than the wall of the rhetoric behind which live the real presidents of any nation appearing in daily media?
The stories they feed us are certainly less compelling than those we will watch today, although, unfortunately, they are definitely more impactful on our existence.
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An Acceptable Loss (2018)
Today’s first powerful woman is Libby Lamm, the President’s former right-hand sidekick, now withdrawn from the political scene and only teaching at the university.
Everything in her life underscores her desire to stay isolated, having no cell phone or any other email or social contact and living in a house with a vault of alarms and security systems.
This attitude is not simply paranoia because her last act as a trustworthy presidential adviser suggested a nuclear attack to catch some of the most dangerous terrorists around all at once.
Therefore, the woman has many enemies, including a young student, Martin Sali, whose family was wiped out by military action and more than 100,000 people in a prominent Syrian city.
Martin starts stalking Libby everywhere, sneaking into her home and placing micro-cameras to spy on her and thus discovering that the woman, psychologically broken, is writing a novel that is basically a confession of her war crimes.
Besides the young Syrian student, of course, the president and Libby’s former colleagues also have a keen interest and are willing to do anything to hide the truth.
Joe Chappelle writes and directs an excellent thriller critique of the more brutal and darker aspects behind U.S. power.
Grief and repentance flow through an intimate and personal drama, in which the disillusioned and tormented character, played by Tika Sumpter, clashes/allies with the young avenger Ben Tavassoli, equally charged with anger and loneliness.
Finally, surprising and memorable is Jamie Lee Curtis‘ performance as the President, perfectly embodying the apparent rationality concealing the madness of war.
For once, we start from a perhaps trite revenge premise yet arrive at an overwhelming, intelligent, and unpredictable development between two very different characters, yet united by a common hope in suffering.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
Let us now turn to a distinctly crazier and adventurous story starring the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
After witnessing a vampire’s killing his mother, the young Lincoln vows revenge and commits himself to rid the country of these bloodthirsty monsters.
His destiny becomes, therefore, closely tied up with Henry Sturges, a mysterious mentor who instructs him to unlock his mind and body’s true potential to fight on an equal level with a seemingly invulnerable enemy.
After hard training, we step through a series of historical events in Lincoln’s life, such as his encounter with his future wife, Mary Todd, and subsequent political rise to counter the injustices of this alternate nineteenth-century America.
Indeed, we soon discover these monstrous beings are protected by the Darkness Power and military and police whose businesses thrive behind the slavery-carrying Southern economy.
From Washington D.C. to the Civil War battlefields, tension rises between the president and dark forces culminating in an epic showdown challenging Lincoln’s courage and determination.
Russian director Timur Bekmambetov crafts a commendable fantasy/biopic transforming the vampire myth into a spectacular metaphor for human cruelty and greed.
The reconstruction is excellent in the details of costumes and scenery providing good historical context to the X-Men-like action scenes of the fearless protagonist Benjamin Walker.
Finally, equally compelling is the performance of Marton Csokas, the ruthless boss of the vampire coalition, sucking the blood and lives of honest American workers.
What more could you want from a movie like this, with a badass warrior president offering an explosive history lesson where the message still comes through loud and clear?
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
We change the setting yet remain in the madness of an alternate reality with the following story, which is wholly placed in a Texas nursing home.
The protagonist this time is an elderly retiree claiming to be Elvis Presley, although the nurses say he is just a mentally confused copycat after falling head over heels off the stage during one of his imitation shows.
I know what you’re thinking: okay, this is a funny premise, but what exactly makes this movie relevant to the various US presidents?
Actually, it does, because his roommate dies during the night, and a new resident arrives in his place, a black man asserting to be the revived John F. Kennedy, hiding under a false identity from the Secret Service after the famous assassination attempt on Dallas.
This unlikely hero duo, barely wandering with a walker and wheelchair, must face an equally unlikely but unstoppable threat when a mummy stolen from a museum arrives nearby and begins feeding on the nursing home residents’ souls.
Don Coscarelli‘s direction and screenplay skillfully balance humor and nostalgia, blending them into a recipe with an unlikely premise but a wonderfully spicy outcome.
As Elvis, Bruce Campbell delivers a resounding performance close to the legendary Ash from Evil Dead, an underdog but relentless in the lonely, gravely ill old man’s resilient nature.
Ossie Davis is equally funny and goofy as an African-American John F. Kennedy, obviously joking about the presidential persona and his well-known involvement with the struggle for black people’s civil rights.
Even though Mummy seems more tired than usual in its slow, relentless trudging. Still, it hits hard as the mainstream cinematic landscape oddly ignores this geriatric comedy horror.
Absolute Power (1997)
The years go by, and the seasons slide away one after another. Yet, one fact never seems to change and even improves with time: the extraordinary talent of director and actor Clint Eastwood.
Here, the West’s most beloved gunslinger plays Luther Whitney, a skilled, aging thief who gets into trouble after his latest heist at billionaire Walter Sullivan‘s lavish mansion.
Indeed, as the man works his way through the safe to snatch the more than $5 million in jewels, he has to hide behind a fake mirror upon the arrival of two drunks frolicking in the next room.
These drunks are not just any people: she is the beautiful Christy, the landlord’s wife, and he is none other than Alan Richmond, the current U.S. president.
Unfortunately, Richmond gets a little too excited and violently beats the woman, who reacts by trying to stab him, only to be killed by the president’s staff, who shoots to stop her.
At that point, Luther becomes the key witness in a scandal that could destroy the current U.S. administration, so the Secret Service and the police begin a relentless and lawless hunt to catch him.
An old saying goes that if power corrupts, then absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is more valid than ever for the ruthless president in this movie, masterfully portrayed by Gene Hackman.
Too bad there is no real face-to-face between him and Clint Eastwood, as in the beautiful nostalgic western Unforgiven. Still, this thriller shows how exciting a story can be without dramatic excesses, action scenes, or even too many twists and turns.
What we see on screen is just a lot of talent and the experience of a cast and director doing their job with their eyes closed, never missing a beat even once.
Wag the Dog (1997)
We end with a movie where we do not even see the American president. Yet, it all revolves around the news of a young girl accusing him of molesting her inside the White House.
Being only a handful of days away from the election, his staff must urgently summon Conrad Brean, an expert in communication and public opinion manipulation.
With no time to figure out anything else, the trickster conceives a plan as audacious as it is improbable: fabricate a fake war against Albania from scratch to distract the public and save the president’s reputation.
To carry out the deception, Brean recruits Stanley Motss, a successful movie producer with whom they create a series of fake news and propaganda clips presenting the fictional tension escalation as an extremely real and urgent threat.
Unfortunately for the president, the Secret Service and the military intervene in time to pacify the situation in the media, so Conrad and Stanley must move on to the second act of their epic farce.
Thus they make up fake news of a soldier missing in action during combat, uniting the nation in their desire to free and bring him home.
However, once again, they have chosen the wrong person: the soldier in question is actually a mentally ill man accused of abusing a nun, so passing him as a hero will be more difficult than expected.
I don’t know how aware director Barry Levinson was at the time. Still, this movie was definitely prophetic, coming out in theaters a few months before President Bill Clinton got under impeachment for the famous sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky.