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HTF DVD Review: Swing Vote



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#1 of 1 Neil Middlemiss

Neil Middlemiss

    Screenwriter

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  • Real Name:Neil Middlemiss

Posted January 19 2009 - 11:10 AM

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Swing Vote




Studio: Touchstone Pictures
Year: 2008
US Rating: Rated PG-13 for Language.
Film Length: 120 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: Spanish




US Release Date: January 13, 2008
Review Date: January 19, 2008

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“Bud, if you blow this, I'm leaving!”


In all honesty, despite the considerable talent to be found in front of and behind the camera, Swing Vote is undeniably an ill-conceived project whose timing could not have been worse. On paper, as an outline and even perhaps as a fully fleshed first draft screenplay, it may have appeared as a timely vehicle for its lead, Costner, to skewer the nature of American Politics while still holding the oft-neglected power of the American voter both to task and in high regard. But that is exactly where the film did not fit with the way the 2008 presidential election shaped up to be and eventually became. Perhaps in 2000 or 2004, the notion of the old, white male leading a political party whose difference with the opposition was just a variance in the grey of the hair color and tent pole philosophical differences on lightning rod issues. I mean that not as an indictment on the American political system, per se, but the Hollywood view of the American Political system as a medium for comedy.

Had this political season not engaged the American voter as vigorously, had it not looked and felt so grand, page turning and larger than the mere moment at hand, Swing Vote would have fared a little better than it did. But, voters in every layer of the political spectrum and on both sides of the aisle were ignited in ways not seen before. So a comedy that relies on a heartwarming skewering of the disinterested, disengaged and disenchanted everyman voter and the message of the importance of recognizing the importance of taking part (in life as much as the political process) has less relevance at this moment in time.

Kevin Costner stars as Bud Johnson, a slovenly single father who’s wiser than her years daughter, Molly, appears to be raising the both of them. Bud is recently unemployed and, aggravatingly, uninterested in being responsible. The national election is in full swing, though he could care less, but through a turn of events he becomes the focus of an entire nation’s attention. This is because, through the magic of cinema, an entire election rests upon a single vote – his. He is soon courted by both political camps to sway him, persuade him to cast his vote in support of their candidate and thus securing a victory for that man and party.

Swing Vote is great ‘what if’ material and it isn’t a bad film at all. It simply holds little relevance in today’s political climate (though I’ll admit, that is a debatable point) and includes many ingredients that don’t live up to the true potential of the ‘what if’ in play. But, in a somewhat unexpected and surprising turn of events, there is a spark of charm about this film. Perhaps it is the air of potential about the proceeding; the want to like the characters or enjoy the absurdity of the circumstances. It simply doesn’t rise up enough to outbalance the issues at hand, but floats just enough ballast to be close to good and, thus, at least worth a look.

The aged and interesting cast includes some quality comedic talent, including Kelsey Grammar as the incumbent presidential candidate Andrew Boone, Nathan Lane as Art Crumb and George Lopez as John Sweeney. Stanley Tucci also stars as Martin Fox with Paula Patton as Kate Madison and Dennis Hopper as the opposing candidate to Boone, Donald Greenleaf (With Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Nana Visitor as his wife). This cast plays candidates, advisors and media types that we have all seen in some way before. But this is a film with a father daughter core around which a playful political yarn has been spun, and young Madeline Carroll makes her debut as the self supporting Molly to Costner’s immature Bud. Molly and Bud have a good chemistry, which sells the central familial theme, but the degree that Bud is such a loser and Molly is so world-wise, stretches credulity.

The experience of watching Swing Vote is potholed. It is a film that creates an uneven sense of entertainment. Too many distinct cinematic troves vying for our attention. The sense of hope versus the ignoble selfishness of politics and the prevalent and predictable tenets of candidates and campaigns; The chance to live up to expectations against the inward focus of a listless self and the fight to come to that and through that. This juxtaposed with sly comedy, silliness of circumstance, earnest attempts at drama and some unmistakable teary-eyed hokum to try and keep our hearts invested. It seeks to poke and prod at the political establishments while slowly unfolding the sincerity of the characters that are buried beneath the blowhards and brutal barons of the battle. That’s quite a lot to mix together and expect to come out ahead.




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Touchstone Pictures brings home Swing Vote in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The opening moments, following the rustic, small town America establishing shots, are worrisome, but that worry subsides within minutes when we are with Bud and Molly driving in their truck and the sharpness and bright palette that represents the best that this image achieves is presented. But all too soon the image quality again falters. Chief among the problems are excess noise, loud in the yellows and oranges, which sadly for us is frequently used to convey the warmth of small town USA. Whites and blues are crisp and clean, and when good, the quality is pleasing. But, much like the film itself, it is a mixed bag of the good and problematic.




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Swing Vote comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound option, not that it makes use of it. Sound is focused in the front and opportunities are missed to envelope the viewer, notably during the songs. Occasionally John Debney’s alternately brass-filled processional and reflective solo violin laced score spark to life behind you, but it isn’t often or even pronounced when it does. Bass is light, dialogue of average clarity and directional sounds in the front not bad. A shame, though, that the best example of splitting sound up in the channels is the closing song. This sound mix is nothing but average.



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Inside the Campaign: The Politics of Production - (12:58) – An average behind the scenes look at casting for the film, creating the character of Bud and the bizarre election situation.

Deleted & Extended Scenes (With Optional Director’s Commentary) - (10:51) – Four scenes in total that don’t add anything of real consequence but are reasonably good and could have worked just fine in the final print.

Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Joshua Michael Stern and Writer Jason Richman - A relatively agreeable commentary by director and co-writer, with standard verses of preparation and expectation anecdotes. The conversation between director and writer is quite constant with some insight, though isn’t particularly revealing on a technical level.

”Hey Man What About You?” Performed by Modern West - (4:15) –Music video of Kevin Costner and his band (Modern West) performing.




Final Thoughts

I liked Swing Vote but I wanted to like it more. I wanted it to be prescient enough when it was being made to better capture the potential swing voter that could have been important in this past election. I wanted it to understand where America was and better understand the deficiencies and dedication, selfishness and servant souls and blindness and boldness of the two political parties that contended for victory on November 4th. It finds political balance by peeling back only the most surface of layers; just enough to let you know which party is which. Its heart is in the right place, but the film itself wasn’t.


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Neil Middlemiss
Kernersville, NC
"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science" – Edwin Hubble
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