Touchstone Pictures // 2008 // 120 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 13th, 2009
One ordinary guy is giving the candidates a reason to run.
Isn't it interesting to note the way Kevin Costner's career has evolved over the years? Once upon a time, the actor was taking himself very seriously in bold-faced epics such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Dances With Wolves, Waterworld, and The Postman. Who knew that Costner would one day reshape his image as a scrappy, lovable, beer-guzzling average Joe? Sure enough, Costner has moved from noble and heroic to sly and ordinary, and the change has benefited him immensely. He's in top form in Swing Vote, a nice little movie about politics and fatherhood.
Costner plays Bud Johnson, which is an average Joe name if I have ever heard one. Bud works in New Mexico as an egg inspector. He's a single father, attempting to raise a particularly intelligent and ambitious young daughter (played by newcomer Madeline Carroll). Bud is a man of good intentions, but he too often forgets to do all the things he has promised his daughter he would do. He'd like to show up to pick her up from school, but he's too easily distracted by the local tavern.
The girl is currently working on a school project and has to do a report on her father going to the polls to vote on election day. Costner forgets to go to the polls by accident, but a curious series of events convinces government officials that he did go to the polls. However, it seems that the vote wasn't actually counted. It also seems that one vote would have pushed the election one way or the other. Some men in limousines drive up to Bud's house, and inform him that he will be re-voting in just ten days, and that his vote will determine who gets to be President of the United States.
The incumbent is Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer, Frasier), a Republican. He is being challenged by Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider), a Democrat. Both more or less stick to the traditional party lines on the issues...until they hear that Bud will be deciding which one of them wins. Suddenly, the candidates and their campaign managers (played by Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane) are gearing their entire campaigns around pleasing one man, and wildly begin flip-flopping on many of their positions in an attempt to curry favor with Bud. This provides a good deal of humor, particularly some of the laughably ridiculous campaign ads the candidates come up with.
Of course, the film takes on more serious matters after a while. The irresponsible Bud has to learn how to be a good father, and must attempt to take his political responsibility seriously. The movie's adamant bipartisanship is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand, the film will undoubtedly speak to voters on both sides of the aisle about the importance of understanding the issues and voting. On the other hand, the super-PC tightrope the movie attempts to walk keeps Swing Vote from ever actually managing to say something bold or meaningful. Still, I guess that's the price you pay when you want to make sure you get the basic message across to everyone who sees the movie.
I can recommend the film thanks to the performances. Costner is quite appealing as Bud, but he is topped by Madeline Carroll as his daughter. Carroll demonstrates a vast level of talent here that suggests she could become a star. Dennis Hopper, Kelsey Grammer, Nathan Lane, and Stanley Tucci are all very fine character actors that I'm always pleased to see more of. Also, Paula Patton (Idlewild) is onhand playing one of the few reporters in the movie who is genuinely nice. Speaking of reporters, there's also a wealth of famous television news personalities here -- the most I've seen in a feature film since Robert Zemeckis' Contact.
I'm pleased to report that Swing Vote looks just terrific in hi-def. It's not a film that really needs to look terrific in hi-def (it doesn't have spectacular visuals), but it does, so there you go. Facial detail is just excellent throughout, blacks are very deep, background detail is sharp, and everything is very well-balanced. Very faint grain can be seen now and then, but I have no real complaints to make. Audio is surprisingly strong, as well. The folksy John Debney score gets a mix that's actually richer than the music deserves, and all of the audio elements are well-distributed. There's even a bit of subwoofer action on occasion. It's not exactly an action movie mix, but better than average for a comedy.
The supplements here are pretty typical. First up is an audio commentary with writer/director Joshua Michael Stern and co-writer Jason Richman. The two guys are genial and chatty throughout, but the information they offer is a bit on the banal side. They're both earnest and really do believe in the message their film is offering, but this isn't an essential listen. Next up, a 13-minute making-of featurette that is pretty standard EPK fare. 10 minutes of deleted scenes are on hand, and all of these are quite bad. They were certainly deleted for a reason. The scene featuring Kelsey Grammar, some Native Americans and an elephant is nothing short of cringe-inducing. Finally, we get a music video featuring Modern West, Kevin Costner's surprisingly-not-awful band.
This is a solid film that is worth checking out. Unlike previous mainstream political films such as The Contender and The American President, this film doesn't preach to the left-wing choir. It attempts to take both parties to task for failing to meet the needs of the American people, and attempts to give the American people a sense of the importance of voting. While Swing Vote isn't quite a home run, it's a solid double, and that's good enough for me. The Blu-ray release looks and sounds terrific, so it's by all means worth checking out in that format if you've made the transition to hi-def home viewing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video