The Reel Dad recaps his top seven political thrillers
“The Report” tells a fascinating story about what it takes to discover and articulate the truth. Over the years, many political thrillers have helped us learn what it takes for truth to prevail. Here are seven of my favorites.
“All the President’s Men” (1977) recreates a chapter in history when a nation’s embarrassment over the behavior of its president almost toppled an institution. The film dares to treat this familiar narrative as a thriller even though we know the ending. This solid core of truth gives director Alan J. Pakula the creative freedom for conjecture. Because we know the verdict, we can speculate about the accusation; since we have the answers we can savor the questions.
“The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) tells a frightening tale of how far people will go to secure political power. Through its story of war prisoners who may have been brainwashed, director John Frankheimer poses serious questions about the authenticity of candidates, the hidden agendas of their handlers, and the people who try to fix problems far beyond their reach. Angela Lansbury should have won an Oscar for her devastating take on a most powerful political mother.
“The Post” (2017) offers an essential look at the bravery that truth requires, to find it, share it, learn from it. With the pace of a thriller, and the detail of a documentary, Steven Spielberg recreates a moment in time when people dare to put their lives and reputations on the line to ensure that truth is revealed. And what a story they tell. Meryl Streep snagged a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her breathtaking portrayal of Washington Post publisher Kay Graham.
“The Contender” (2000) considers what can happen when political parties fight over who a President can choose to fill the spot after a Vice President dies. Rather than simply follow who the nation’s leader may select, all the agendas and daggers come out as these politicians reveal their dislike for common sense and national interest. Joan Allen and Jeff Bridges won well-deserved Oscar nominations.
“Three Days of the Condor” (1975) captures the urgency of how a government might react when its secrets could be revealed. This classic thriller, from director Sidney Pollack, uses every ingredient of the Hollywood recipe to keep us at the edge of our seats as Robert Redford tries to outsmart the CIA, a bunch of assassins and Faye Dunaway. Whether or not he succeeds, the movie delivers a rousing two hours of entertainment.
“JFK” (1991) dares to question what actually happened when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Director Oliver Stone never intends the film to be a documentary and, as he acknowledges, freely adjusts the timing and pacing of events for dramatic effect. Never satisfied with official explanations, he openly considers the validity of the “conspiracy theories” of who actually shot the President. And he preserves the hysterical environment of the early 1960s.
“The Parallax View” (1974) uses a fictional narrative to tell a story of how a government tries to cover up the truth behind a political assassination. It’s kind of like “JFK” before “JFK.” Director Alan J. Pakula - immediately before directing “All the President’s Men” - uses every ingredient from the political thriller recipe to create a fascinating film that entertains as well as frightens. Surprisingly, this now-classic film was largely ignored when first released.
Yes, moviemakers love political thrillers. So do film audiences. Enjoy.