Biography Channel // 2008 // 42 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // August 7th, 2008
Hero. Senator. Maverick.
Born into Naval aristocracy in 1936, John Sidney McCain III had his life planned from the outset. His grandfather, John, Sr., had attained the rank of 4-star admiral and, while a mere captain when his son was born, John, Jr. would eventually reach the same level. A Navy brat with an instinctual desire to serve his country, young McCain entered the U.S. Naval Academy as soon as he could. Neither the best nor the most conformist student, however, he barely graduated and, when he did, decided that the life for him was in the clouds. He joined up with the Navy pilots and enjoyed all the freedom and girls that lifestyle brings, living the high life for years. These days ended, however, in 1967 when tragedy struck. On a top-secret bombing mission, McCain was shot down on the wrong side of the line. After spending the next five years as a prisoner of war enduring humiliation and torture, he returned home a hero and, eventually, rode this wave of popularity into the political arena. He entered the House of Representatives in 1982 with a landslide victory and, in 1988, replaced the infamous Barry Goldwater in the Senate. Despite both political and personal scandal, he has maintained his good name with the American people, and ran for president in the 2000 election. Undeterred by the failure of his campaign, he has re-emerged in 2008 as the presumptive republican candidate, determined to continue the G.O.P.'s reign over the White House.
As a Cliff Notes version of John McCain's life, Biography Channel's look at the Republican Party's presidential hopeful hits all the important notes, through 2000 at least. Unfortunately, all but the final two minutes are from a McCain biography made years ago. Upon his failed attempt at the presidency, the biography stops and the credits roll. Afterward, there is another couple of minutes as an "update" with footage of the current presidential election. It is not narrated and, unlike the rest of the piece, is more of a campaign ad than an information source. The box copy misleads by specifically promising to follow McCain "...from his transitory naval base childhood through the 2008 republican primaries." Skipping five years, the entire primary race, and settling on two clips of Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee saying that they're throwing in the primary towel is not following anything. It is a cheap, slapdash attempt to rush a "new" special to street before the election.
That's not to say that there are no interesting questions raised in the piece. There are plenty of good questions about our presidential nominee that fall out of the bio, but the piece doesn't address them at all. I'd like to know, for instance, how the descendent of two top-flight admirals could have been put at such intense peril over and over again. It may be that he refused a desk job for what he felt was more honest service; I'd like more information. More than that, I would like a more complete account of his inclusion with the Keating 5 and the senate hearings that followed. As it stands, there is little more than a dismissal of his guilt and a series of quotes about how the hearings were more taxing on him than his time at the Hanoi Hilton. It's clearly much worse to sit through an investigation of your own wrongdoing than to be tortured in an enemy country. But this scandal and all the others are as glossy as glossed-over can get, and a more rigorous, honest discussion would have been welcome. More than anything, however, the major question that comes from this piece is why John McCain's rhetoric today is so much different, so much more conformist, so much more divisive than when these clips were filmed. Clearly, it's because he wants to appeal to his party base and win a presidency, but he has so deeply undermined the principles that brought him to this place. Anyone used to McCain's style now will not recognize the man on the TV. Alas, maybe in a better documentary this like this will get addressed.
The video and audio quality vary with the source material and the transfer is consistent with the television broadcast. The quality of the piece is consistent with Biography Channel's other programs. It gives a rosy view of its subject and is not made for people who want to learn anything substantive about the man. Not just in this case, all of these biographies are made for those who want only to worship at the altar of the subject. Not journalism and not documentary filmmaking, these pieces are valuable for a Junior High Social Studies course and little else.
Guilty. This Biography Channel production will be censured.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Biography Channel
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 42 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated