Lionsgate // 2012 // 87 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 18th, 2012
Love him. Hate him. You don't know him.
During the fall of 2012, I had more than a few people tell me that I absolutely needed to see 2016: Obama's America. "I don't care whether you think he's good or bad, this is an important movie that every American needs to see," one gentleman told me. A extremely conservative U.S. Representative urged me to see it, claiming that it was the year's most important film and that it provided a very even-handed portrait of the President. I even came across a gas station that was offering a $10 gas card to any person who brought in a ticket stub proving that they had gone to see 2016: Obama's America in the theatre. Truly a remarkable collective effort to get the voters of America to educate themselves on the issues before casting their vote, no?
It should come as no surprise that 2016: Obama's America never even comes within shouting distance of objectivity, but that's hardly a reason to dismiss the film. After all, the documentary genre is increasingly populated by films that play more like impassioned sermons than bias-free analysis. Over the course of this 87-minute message, author and political commentator Dinesh D'Souza seeks to understand what makes President Obama tick and predict what he might have in store for us if he's elected to a second term (which of course he has been). Unfortunately, D'Souza passes on making a legitimate case about where the President's known policies might lead, in favor of indulging in groan-worthy speculation and pop psychology.
The basic premise of the movie: everything President Obama is doing is part of a secret campaign to please the perpetually discontented ghost of his father, and Obama will not rest until he has fully enacted his socialist, communist, anti-American, pro-Kenyan, secret Muslim agenda. D'Souza depicts Obama as some sort of Manchurian Candidate being controlled by the diabolical whims of his late father's agenda; a man whose ultimate goal is the destruction of America. What angers me about the film is not that it's anti-Obama, as there are plenty of reasonable arguments to be made against many of the President's policies. What angers me about the film is that it assumes that the President is actively seeking to destroy the country. If you honestly believe that Barack Obama (or Mitt Romney, for that matter) genuinely wants to see this country fall apart, then you're experiencing a level of suspiciousness, hatred and/or fear that has nothing to do with reality. It's one thing to suggest that a President's policies will be harmful to the country he's leading. It's another thing entirely to suggest that a President wants his policies to hurt the country he's leading, and that's precisely what 2016: Obama's America is guilty of.
As evidence for the case he builds against the President, D'Souza calls in people who knew the President at some point in his life and asks them to testify. He travels to Kenya to speak to one man who knew Barack's father. "You've seen President Obama on TV," D'Souza asks the man. "Is he much like his father?" "They are the same," the old man chuckles. This moment (and so many others) is underscored by grim music that wouldn't sound out-of-place in a John Carpenter movie. Add in D'Souza's overheated narration and grating Michael Moore-esque faux ignorance and you have a film that frequently feels like an entirely serious variation on one of Stephen Colbert's satirical documentary segments (though its sloppily-presented suggestion that Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright are to Obama what Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were to Ronald Reagan smacks of Glenn Beck-style sensationalism, especially when it starts trying to draw connections between Obama and Osama Bin Laden). The only moment in the film in which D'Souza's spin starts to backfire is an interview he conducts with Barack's half-brother George, who dismisses the writer/director's cheesy leading questions with a knowing shrug.
The film's reliance on speculation and avoidance of hard statistics is problematic enough, but it harms itself even further by including some exceptionally silly original footage. In one scene, D'Souza recounts a debate between himself and Rev. Jesse Jackson. As he repeats a statement Jackson made about racism today being much more subtle than it used to be, he shows footage of a young black man sitting down at a bar and a white man quickly getting up to leave at the same time. Cheesy, but it gets the point across. Ah, but wait: as D'Souza rebuts Jackson's point and claims that racism isn't really much of a problem anymore, we witness the white guy coming back into the bar and presenting the black guy with...a birthday cake! Then everyone in the bar claps and cheers. See, black people? You're so suspicious of white people, and all they want to do is give you some cake.
Even the moments that are rooted in fact manage to seem silly. In yet another underscored-by-creepy-music moment, D'Souza shows a clip of the President saying that he wants to live in a world without nuclear weapons and that he's committed to guiding nations across the world to decreasing the number of nukes they have onhand. This seems like an entirely reasonable point-of-view, but D'Souza is shocked...shocked!...that our nation's leader would be leading this obvious conspiracy to leave America so vulnerable to attack. However, at least he's working from things the President is actually planning to do in that instance. Most of the time, the director is content to simply make things up (a paraphrased argument made in the film: "Hey, the President seems to be against rich people...and the president isn't just concerned about America, but about the entire world...and almost all Americans are wealthy in contrast to most of the people across the globe...so it stands to reason that the President is against all of us! NOOOOOOO!!!!").
2016: Obama's America has certainly received a solid DVD transfer, offering strong detail throughout (though obviously the level of clarity fluctuates throughout the variety of archival footage offered). The Dolby 5.1 Surround track is a bit messier, as some of D'Souza's interview segments sound a bit distorted and overcooked (especially during some of the film's earlier scenes). There are no supplements whatsoever, which was a relief for yours truly given that by the film's conclusion I was no mood to sit through any more of D'Souza's lazy, ugly fantasies.
I realize that my complaints about the documentary are falling on deaf ears. The film did quite well at the box office, has been heralded as genuinely insightful and profound stuff by conservatives everywhere and is regarded by an alarmingly large number of people as a reasonably accurate portrait of our current President. Still, I can't help but feel the people who should be most upset by this documentary are conservatives who value logical arguments and have legitimate complaints about Obama's positions on real issues. I realize that plenty of you are going to feel that I'm only panning the film because I'm either a blind Obama acolyte or someone who also secretly wants America to collapse. The truth of the matter is that documentaries like this exist on both sides of the aisle. The only substantial difference between 2016: Obama's America and something like Bill Maher's Religulous (another film featuring an exceptionally sloppy, sensationalist argument against something a lot of people dislike) is that the latter benefits from the polished direction of Larry Charles while viewers of 2016 are subjected to D'Souza's considerably more amateurish filmmaking skills. Dinesh, I'll make my own ominous prediction: in 2016, the majority of viewers will be able to see your documentary for the self-important, wrong-headed fear-mongering that it is.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG