The dream ticketThe dream ticket

The most fascinating presidential election in
decades is a screenwriter’s dream, but what kind of film it would make, asks Michael Armstrong

The most fascinating presidential election in
decades is a screenwriter’s dream, but what kind of film it would make, asks Michael Armstrong

Undoubtedly the pitch has already been made. A country beset by economic, political and social unrest. A discredited administration that has removed freedoms at home and damaged America’s standing abroad. An epic contest to decide who holds the most powerful office in the world. Sex, lies and ticket tape parades. Coming soon to a cinema near you – the 2008 Presidential Election.

A film adaptation of this year’s race for the White House could be with us sooner than we think, if recent history is any evidence. Films such as Primary Colours, Recount and Oliver Stone’s upcoming W., were all made while the administration in question was still in office. All of these films focus on one particular event or figure in America’s political history, but what makes 08 (a working title) such a fascinating prospect is that any of the characters in this real life drama could carry their own film.

Take Barack Obama for example. The film could start with the story of his search to find his Kenyan roots, or his introduction to the wider world at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. With not one but two bestselling memoirs, it isn’t like there is a shortage of source material. The real question is who could portray the Senator from Illinois, who has become a cultural icon in his own right. Many established African-American actors seem ill-suited for the role. Avery Brooks is a little too old, Denzel Washington a little too famed for his portrayal of Malcolm X, and Samuel L. Jackson a little too Snakes on a Plane. The thought of an Obama rally climaxing with his Ezekiel 25:17 monologue from Pulp Fiction does have a certain appeal, though.
Were I the casting agent my pick would be the immensely talented Chiwetel Ejiofor, a British actor of Nigerian parentage, who has so far only found supporting roles in films such as American Gangster and Children of Men.

As for his Republican opponent, the more haggard and aged John McCain looks, the more I’m reminded of a latter day Marlon Brando. Necromancy isn’t really an option here however, so Brian Cox could stand in and adequately capture the war hero’s tenacity and temper.

I’ve a feeling Robert Redford could do a great Joe Biden, but the real casting chore would be everyone’s favourite moose-huntin’ Russian-spottin’ hockey mom, Sarah Palin. While Tina Fey’s impersonation is spot on, it wouldn’t suit the more worthy dramatic tone of many election films. Holly Hunter, on the other hand, can do bitch better than anyone, and already has the down-home folksy accent required to strike fear into the hearts of those who can name more newspapers than the would-be President-in-waiting.

The supporting roles in this electoral drama seem a little easier to cast, as many have been portrayed on screen before. Emma Thompson’s portrayal of Hillary Clinton was one of the few successes of the haphazard Primary Colours, but I also think Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman could pull it off.

No doubt many media figures would be willing to play themselves if the money was right. This could prove helpful, as an actor would have no hope of outdoing the real John Stewart or Bill O’Reilly. With Hollywood dominated by left-leaning filmmakers such as Aaron Sorkin, however, I seriously doubt Karl Rove would be willing to poke fun at his ridiculously biased punditry. Enter Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Ricky Gervais to play the neo-conservative mastermind.

Uber-conservative Mitt Romney probably won’t be auditioning either, but there has always been an uncanny likeness between the handsome business mogul and Lost’s Matthew Fox. Don’t be surprised if the big secret at the end of that show is that they are in fact the same person.

To get people queuing in droves at the box office, however, the scandals that have decorated this campaign season from beginning to end will need some airtime. John Edward’s marital mishaps could be given pathos by the vastly-underrated Greg Kinnear, while some much needed sex appeal could be added by the injection of Transformers star Megan Fox as knocked-up teen Bristol Palin. Artistic licence, I know, but anyone who has watched either of the campaigns’ promo advertisements will know that reality and electioneering rarely run side by side.

After the melodrama of the Clintons’ defeat and the frothy scandal of the Palin nomination has kept audiences entertained for the first half, the economic collapse could provide a perfect change of tone for the second act. At the crisis talks in the White House, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (John Malkovich?) could deliver an Oscar-winning “we’re screwed” speech, and we’d be all set for the big finale: election day.

The problem there is we don’t yet know how it’s all going to end. Though perhaps that’s exactly why this race has been so fascinating to watch, as with all the accusations, machinations and shifts in public opinion, only a fool would call the election today in either candidate’s favour. One option for our budding filmmaker could be to break from reality in order to keep our interest, ending with some sort of M. Night Shyamalan-style twist. Chris Rock’s theory that Obama is a robot created by Oprah could be confirmed, while in McCain’s case, maybe we’ve all been seeing dead people.

Much more likely is the film being postponed until we know just how either candidate will actually fare in office. Great films based on true events or individuals always have the gift of a little hindsight, adding pathos to our expectations, contemplation to our initial outrage. If it was only possible to pass this gift from cinemagoers to the American electorate before November, we might get the President of our dreams, not just the plotline.