Is it possible to create a gripping drama based on events the viewer already knows the outcome to? Director Jay Roach (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery) and screenwriter Danny Strong accomplish this feat in Recount,which takes a look back at the 2000 presidential election and the efforts to determine whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would take that state's 25 electoral votes.
Roach, who is best known as a director of comedies, proves himself a capable director of drama, while Strong's whip-smart script manages to avoid partisan favoritism and gives equal time to both sides — to Al Gore's camp, headed by former Clinton Secretary of State Warren Christopher (John Hurt) and Bush's camp, headed by former Bush Senior Secretary of State James Baker (Tom Wilkinson).
Recount is told from the point of view of Al Gore's former Chief of Staff, Ron Klain (Kevin Spacey, in a wonderful performance). As the film opens, Klain, like many Americans, is watching the Florida election results. Florida will be the key to the presidential victory as winning its electoral votes will put the candidate in the White House. Things start out promising — the news networks are calling Florida for Gore. But a few hours later, things get really confusing when the networks change their projections and call Florida for Bush. This of course puts the Gore camp into a bit of a panic. Gore eventually calls Bush to concede the election.
Watching the election results is Michael Whouley (a hilarous Denis Leary), who notices that Bush's lead over Gore is very narrow. In the end Bush's lead is less than 1800 votes, which means under Florida law a recount can be requested. Gore calls Bush to take back his concession and the politicking begins in full swing as both camps try to figure out how to best get their candidate into the White House.
What's amazing is how director Jay Roach creates dramatic tension from a situation we already know the outcome to. We all know Gore in the end loses to Bush, but in watching Recount there is genuine suspense over how things will turn out.
The performances by the leads are marvelous. Of particular note is Laura Dern as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. The film is not particularly kind in its portrayal of Harris, essentially portraying her as a woman who is very much out of her league and bordering on incompetence. Dern is clearly having a blast playing Harris and it's a fun performance to watch, and one of Dern's best.
The supporting cast is also excellent, with Tom Wilkinson's charismatic performance as James Baker and John Hurt's low-key but effective portrayal of Warren Christopher.
The film ends as it did in real life, with the decision by the United States Supreme Court to halt the recount in Florida, essentially handing George W. Bush his victory. Would Gore have won if the recount was allowed to continue? That's a question we don't get the answer to, although many groups later conducted their own recount of the ballets, and in some instances Gore would have come out the winner — had the Gore camp requested a full statewide recount, rather than the hand-picking of a few counties as they ultimately decided to do.
Recount is a funny, intelligent film, directed expertly by Roach with a superb cast. If you missed this one when it originally aired on HBO, now's your chance to catch it on DVD.
The film is presented in a standard 16:9 aspect ratio. Image quality is generally good, with no noticeable compression artifacts or aliasing. This is a made-for-cable movie, so don't expect to be blown away by the image quality. Sound options are a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and a Spanish 2.0 track. This film is mostly dialog, so there isn't a lot going on in the surround channels. DVD extras include commentary by director Jay Roach and screenwriter Danny Strong, interviews with Ron Klein and Ben Ginsberg, and a featurette on the making of the film.
A must see.