Experts Recommend Five Political Biopics
- Nov. 16, 2012
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Critics are raving about Steven Spielberg’s newly released biopic about the mysterious man-behind-the-monument, Lincoln. The film had a limited release on November 9, and is being released widely today.
Equipped with an all-star cast including Daniel-Day Lewis (Abraham Lincoln), Sally Field (Mary Todd Lincoln), and Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), Lincoln offers a narrow gaze on the triumphant final months of the president’s life as he fought to simultaneously end the Civil War and abolish slavery. Lincoln is just the latest of dozens of films produced by Hollywood about influential political figures. Below are other notable political biopics suggested by professors at KU.
Directed by Gus Van Sant
An Academy Award winner for best picture, “Milk” follows the journey of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, and his struggles as an American gay rights activist.
“’Milk’ is gripping because of the spirit of change that was wrought during that time and place,” said Robert Hurst, associate professor of film and media studies at the University of Kansas. “Sean Penn delivers perhaps his most powerful performance yet, playing a character who had to transform and operate against the convention and the outside norms of society.”
“Malcolm X” (1992)
Directed by Spike Lee
This acclaimed true story, directed by the ambitious Spike Lee, brings the controversial and influential black nationalist leader to life again both as man and myth.
”The magnetism of Denzel Washington’s performance is the film’s most compelling aspect, as well as the political intrigue between the nation of Islam and Malcolm X himself,” Hurst said.
“Che, Part I” (2009)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
The first part of Steven Soderbergh’s two-part saga centers on the legendary Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his role in the Cuban rebellion. With Che played by Benicio Del Toro, the biopic delivers a dead-on (and gruesome) rendition of how the Castro-led army of exiles toppled the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
“Soderbergh does an incredible job of not trying too hard to condense or spare any events leading up to the revolution in Cuba,” said Hurst. “[The film] demands proper attention due to its epic scope, but is definitely a venture worthwhile.”
Directed by Ron Howard
Directed by the acclaimed Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon” is an award-winning film about one of the most famous political scandals of all time.
“’Frost/Nixon’ offers a fascinating look at Nixon and the Watergate scandal,” said Michael Lynch, professor of political science at the University of Kansas. “It’s perhaps one of the greatest American biopics about politics.”
“Game Change” (2012)
Directed by Jay Roach
Winner of five Primetime Emmy awards this year, Jay Roach’s HBO miniseries “Game Change” follows the 2008 presidential campaign of Republican candidate John McCain. A significant amount of the biopic centers on McCain’s running mate and then-governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, who is played by the accomplished actress Julianne Moore.
“Game Change” explores Palin’s journey as the spunky newcomer to the election, detailing her ups and downs of being under the political spotlight.
“The significance of ["Game Change"] is that it points out the dynamics of a campaign and the strategies used for selling the president to America,” said Chuck Berg, professor of film and media studies at the University of Kansas. “It’s brilliant in that is raises these questions, applicable to all campaigns, at a much more general level. Julianne Moore does a wonderful inhabitation of Sarah Palin, along with Woody Harrelson as her strategist Steve Schmidt.”