HBO // 2010 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // December 13th, 2010
It's what happens when Billary meets Chony.
The title The Special Relationship actually serves multiple purposes in this film. The most obvious is the relationship between Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. But the movie also gives us a view of how both of these men interact with their wives. Can screenwriter Peter Morgan keep all these relationships interesting?
Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) is on the cusp of becoming the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom when he is invited to the White House by President Bill Clinton (Dennis Quaid). The two men share the same goals and political views, and feel that history has set up a special relationship between the UK and the USA that spans decades.
As Blair begins to shape his government he finds himself going to Clinton for advice time and again, much to the chagrin of his wife Cherie (Helen McCrory). Then scandal strikes the White House and Clinton's actions make maintaining the special relationship even more risky. Blair begins to feel the pressure of maintaining the bond, especially when things begin to escalate in Kosovo.
Before popping this film into my DVD player I decided to revisit the 2006 film The Queen. Not only did Michael Sheen play Tony Blair in that film, but much of the same cast and crew were involved in both films. Most important is that Peter Morgan wrote the screenplay for each movie. Combined with The Deal, another biopic about Tony Blair, we have a trilogy of sorts.
Watching The Queen again, but this time focusing on Sheen's performance I was struck at how important his role in the film was. He's the voice of reason, a person who is actually in touch with what the British populous wants and uses it to great political advantage. We get the feeling that Blair knows this will help him politically, but it is also something he feels strongly about.
That trend continues in The Special Relationship, as Morgan and Sheen continue to show us that Blair is a savvy guy when it comes to politics, but also a bit of an idealist. In an early scene when he and Clinton discuss their grand visions for the future, Blair seems truly invested in making the world a better place. As the years pass both men are tested and both turn to the other for help or advice. It's an interesting dynamic, and one that both Quaid and Sheen perform very well.
The relationships between these men and their wives serves as a concurrent subplot. We see Tony and his wife Cherie interacting early in the film, before he has been made Prime Minister. The two seem like a loving couple not much different from someone you'd meet on your street. Even as the film progresses, Cherie never loses faith in her husband and does her best to help him as events in Kosovo turn ugly. Helen McCrory reprises her role that she did so well in The Queen and makes you wish that she and Sheen had a few more scenes to share.
Then there are the Clintons, with Dennis Quaid doing an excellent job capturing Bill's voice and mannerisms even if he doesn't really look like the president. Its a very good performance. Hope Davis plays Hillary and she is just as good, capturing not only the overall look of the First Lady but her commanding presence. Her interaction with Bill is quite different from the way the Blairs interact, and makes for an interesting comparison.
The acting is the reason to watch the film with some great performances capturing political figures from the recent past. The production is top notch with nearly every element capturing not only the 1990s but also settings and mood of the times. I was amazed at all the little touches in the film that put it solidly in the past and kept it feeling real at the same time. Composer Alexandre Desplat provides a fairly light supporting score that fits the film like a glove.
Director Richard Loncaine keeps the film moving at a fairly brisk pace. The movie is a little over an hour and a half and really flies by. This is a pretty impressive task for a film that nearly all dialogue.
HBO provides a solid presentation of the film. The picture was sharp and provided plenty of detail for those shiny '90s suits. The 5.1 sound mix was good, usually putting the score in the rear channels, and keeping the dialogue clear and understandable. For extras you get a featurette that is really nothing more than an extended trailer.
There is one downfall to the script and that is the simple fact that it must compress a number of years with several key events into 93 minutes. This keeps some events from really coming across as dire as they need to. this movie depends a lot on viewers memories of that time. While it does a good job of evoking that time, the scripts basic construction never let the movie really breathe and create the depth it needed to. This was even more obvious after watching The Queen and seeing how effective that film was in capturing the conflict and moods in the span of a few days. Comparisons are going to happen (it's hard when there are so many linking cast and crew members) and The Queen is simply the superior film.
I've seen some feedback that this film does not portray the truth. Some find fault with the depiction of the historical figures. Others dislike the depiction of events. As is the case with most historical films, this movie will rub some viewers the wrong way. Also it's a talky drama, so if you dislike those types of movies than steer clear.
This is an intriguing examination of a set of relationships and how they shaped the world. You get some excellent acting with some juicy roles and a well executed production. If this sounds like something you'd enjoy, I heartily recommend it.
I didn't need to talk to the president to judge this one; not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated