HBO’s 2008 tv-movie Recount dramatizes the events surrounding the controversial Florida votes in the 2000 presidential election. A complex tale involving arcane election law, Recount benefits from an all-star cast portraying the proceedings that Americans watched in real time for more than a month on cable news channels.
The political firestorm stems from the misunderstanding of the ballot in Florida. It led to some elderly voters casting their votes for Pat Buchanan because of the ballot design, requirement to poke a chad from the ballot, and a legal challenge that reached the United States Supreme Court. In the eye of the storm are the leaders of the George W. Bush and Al Gore teams.
James Baker III, a veteran cabinet member in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, opined about the events in Recount in the May 17, 2008 edition of Newsweek. “We recognized that it was a political contest, not just a legal contest. And I think the other side recognized that, too. I don’t think we approached it more than they did as win-or-lose situation. It was a unique event in political history. Its legacy in my mind is that the strength of our democracy is our political stability. We handled it exceptionally well. We were engaged in an extraordinarily emotional undertaking and the rule of law prevailed, and I daresay that wouldn’t have occurred in any other country but America.”
Ron Klain, the leader of the Gore recount initiative, said, “I’ve seen it three times, and the opening scene of the elderly voter trying to navigate the butterfly ballot just makes me want to scream as she punches the Pat Buchanan hole.”
Tom Wilkinson plays Baker and Kevin Spacey plays Klain in Recount. In the May 25, 2008 edition of The Washington Post, television critic Tom Shales wrote, “When we first meet Klain, in fact, he is chafing at what he considers an inadequate and insulting job offer that Gore, through an intermediary, has offered him. Klein considers it slim reward for years of faithful service. It’s thus somehow more dramatic, and ironic, when Klain finds himself in charge of the desperate effort to get Florida votes recounted, a measure prompted by a tremendous number of irregularities in the final tally and one that he and others felt could very well put Gore in the White House.”
In the May 23, 2008 edition of The New York Times, television critic Alessandra Stanley wrote, “The film lays out how Mr. Gore, and the nation, missed a chance to find out for sure, partly through Mr. Gore’s own lack of nerve but mostly because the Democrats were outlitigated and outfoxed by a tougher, more sophisticated team of Republican lawyers and political consultants.”
On his web site, rogerebert.com, film critic Roger Ebert wrote a review of Recount on May 25, 2008. Ebert opined. “You might assume the movie is pro-Gore and anti-Bush, but you would not be quite right. Dave Grusin’s almost eerie score evokes a journey into uncharted territories and haunted lands, but that’s as close as it come[s] to making a statement (other than the incredulity voiced by the losers). The Democratic party figures portrayed in the film have been the loudest in protest, especially Warren Christopher (John Hurt), who was the first head of the Gore team, and is portrayed as a wimp ready to cave in to the GOP. Whether the film is fair to him I cannot say.”
The cast of Recount includes Laura Dern, Bob Balaban, Mitch Pileggi, and Denis Leary.
Through a byzantine array of election laws, the challenge that arrived at the United States Supreme Court resulted in a 5-4 ruling allowing for George W. Bush to remain the winner of Florida’s 25 electoral votes and, thus the presidency.
And the rest is history.
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