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Can you believe that we are just a few days away from one of the closest presidential campaigns in over 30 years? If you're like me, you're probably saying, thank God it's almost over!!!!! After 2 years (and more like 4 years for political junkies) of watching George W. Bush and Al Gore go at it, what have we really learned about the candidates? What is a manufactured facade and what shows us the character and heart of each man? These are some of the questions asked in the hilarious, stinging pseudo-documentary from Tim Robbins.
Robbins stars as Bob Roberts, a young, fresh faced conservative folk singer in Pennsylvania. He is also stinking rich. It's 1990 and Pennsylvania's senior Senator, a die-hard liberal and academic, Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal), is up for re-election. While Paiste has been a champion in the Senate, Roberts has been able to capture the momentum of the conservative movement and is shooting up in the polls.
He has been able to portray himself as a populist and, as the documentary film crew following him around finds out, is willing to do anything to win the election. This shocks Paiste, who is still playing by the old rules. Soon, Roberts starts campaigning around the state in a bus, and begins what could be a massive electoral upset.
Who is Bob Roberts? Is he the angel of the conservative movement or a conniving rat who is using the media to fool the voters? Will he win?
This is the movie that made Tim Robbins a respected and admired player in Hollywood. Prior to this film, he was best known for the sci-fi/comedy flop, Howard the Duck, and as the rookie pitcher with over active hormones in Bull Durham. In his first film as writer and director, Robbins delivers a wicked and clever look at politics that was ahead of its time. Parts of Bob Roberts can be seen in real life politicians like Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush.
Each tried to use the media to break out of the typical mold we placed them in as Democrats and Republicans. Is it coincidence that Clinton starting campaigning in a bus and used his music to win over crowds like Roberts does in the film, which was made before the 1992 presidential election? Is it a shock that Gingrich and Bush try to connect with young voters by eschewing the old guard to show that they care about the little guy?
Robbins' screenplay is magnificent in its ability to bring to life every conservative's dream - use the trappings of the liberal movement and culture against them to win an election. Roberts is a folk singer, appears on hip television programs and uses the media to his advantage in a way that every conservative wishes he could. After spending years as a Republican in the political battlefield, I remember how much my contemporaries wished they could run a campaign like the Roberts race. Many times I heard and even thought, if only I could get my candidate on that TV show or get the kind of a cream puff interview Clinton often plays like a master. Conservatives want to be seen as "good guys", not the fuddy duddies they often are portrayed as. Robbins allows Roberts to do that.
Of course, Robbins then uses the conservative dream against them. While Roberts seems to be charming, hip, lovable and cuddly, the man behind the mask is not so nice. Everything seems to be designed to hide some major character flaw or hidden agenda. Robbins lets us see this in small doses, small enough to keep us wondering if it is real.
The script and plot are very real, even if it is over blown for dramatic effect. Candidates are always searching for ways to get the voters to like them, often using tricks instead of being themselves. Each camp has its true believers - zealots who have not stopped to think about the mantra and heroes they believe. And, of course, campaigns always have a media willing to play along for the big scoop.
Hollywood has always been fascinated with politics whether it is the young do-gooders of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Candidate, or the slick slippery pols like Bob Roberts. One thing is for certain, we will never tire of the subject.
Check out Bob Roberts this weekend. While it sometimes comes off as too liberal (Roberts is the ultimate evil, demonized characature of a Newt Gingrich Republican), naïve (the subplot of one underground reporter who thinks he has the true story on Roberts is sometimes silly) and heavy handed in its satire (Alan Rickman is a little inhuman as the campaign manager), Roberts is one of the best films you will ever see about politics. Also, those in Virginia might find some interesting parallels between the Allen-Robb race and the movie.
Quick note: Look for a cameo from Helen Hunt who starred in Quarterback Princess with Tim Robbins back in the 1980's.
Written and Directed by Tim Robbins
Tim Robbins .... ... . Bob Roberts
Giancarlo Esposito ... Bugs
Alan Rickman ...... Lukas Hart III
Ray Wise .... Chet MacGregor
Gore Vidal .. Brickley Paiste
Jack Black . . Roger
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