Political Film Review #364

Fear is the primary cause of stuttering, according to Lionel Loque (played by Geoffrey Rush) in The King’s Speech. Loque, an Australian, learned how to be a speech therapist by working with his World War I comrades in Britain who had post-traumatic stress syndrome due to the war. He learned that results would emerge from rebuilding their self-esteem and relaxing their muscles. He never expected that one day he would be a therapist for the future King George VI (played by Colin Firth). More than a biopic, The King’s Speech reveals many secrets about the royal family, including the abdication of Edward VIII (played by Guy Pearce). Americans may envy the fact that the English monarch is the one person who can talk to everyone in the country in a truly grandparently manner because kings and queens are above partisan politics and set the cultural tone. Although the setting is often supposed to be somewhere in royal castles, a variety of lesser buildings serve to give the impression of regal opulence. The story is based on the 2010 book of the same title (subtitled How One Main Saved the British Monarchy) by Loque and coauthor Peter Conradi. Directed by Tom Hooper, titles at the film’s end indicate how the king rewarded the man who gave him his voice. MH

Who would have predicted that Jack Abramoff (played by Kevin Spacey) would be the hero of a biopic? That’s what the late George Hickenlooper presents in directing an exposé of Washington that harkens back to Political Film Society awardwinner The Distinguished Gentlemen (1992). When the film begins, the term “lobbyist” is placed on the screen along with a definition–someone who influences legislators to pass laws. We are reminded later that the First Amendment protects dissemination of information by lobbyists. Although the film ends with “I am Jack Abramoff; I work out every day,” he repeats a perceptive quote attributed to Harry Truman, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” In any case, the film focuses most on Abramoff’s multimillion contract to help some casino-operating Native American tribal governments to keep out competition from other Native American tribes, perhaps the largest sum ever paid to a lobbyist. Abramoff’s lavish lifestyle is featured as well as his relationship with business associates and Tom DeLay (played by Spencer Garrett), who presumably could get support in Congress to pass whatever he wanted. For Abramoff, offering free sporting events, meals, private jets, prostitutes, vacations, and money to members of Congress is merely the cost of doing business. When Senator John McCain (from actual film footage) convenes hearings to inquire about his large fee, Abramoff is at first advised to use the Fifth Amendment. Then his patience wears thin as he is castigated by Senators until he blurts out that none of them objected when he made sizeable contributions to their campaigns. McCain then declares him out of order, and he is whisked away by Capitol police. Charged with bribery and tax evasion, he is convicted on evidence from his sidekick, Michael Scanlon (played by Barry Pepper) and sentenced to six years in a federal prison (as he provided information that convicted twenty others). Portrayed at the end of the film as a model prisoner, Abramoff is seen writing memoirs to be published now that he has been released after serving four years. Aside form Casino Jack and the documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010), we have not heard the last of Jack Abramoff. Whether the narrative is shocking or otherwise, Casino Jack clearly warrants nomination for best film exposé of 2010. MH