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New Release Review (DVD) - THE CONGRESSMAN

Amid political scandal, a congressman is packed off to a remote island to avoid media attention.






Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Jared Martin, Robert Mrazek

Starring: Treat Williams, Elizabeth Marvel, Ryan Merriman, George Hamilton, Marshall Bell, Fritz Weaver, Chris Conroy



Ok, The Congressman has about the political depth of a Buzzfeed article, but this is to miss the point; this is feelgood fare. And, actually, it feels pretty good.



Political scandals are not what they used to be. As I write (in Britain), the media fascinates over whether the leader of the opposition sat upon the floor or on a seat during a crowded (or not) train journey. A man’s seating arrangements on the 11am Kings Cross to Newcastle: political discourse in Britain today. In the U.S. branding is not as benign, with Donald Trump playing chicken with public perception, invoking the Second Amendment to obliquely encourage the assassination of his competition. An advisor, Al Baldasaro, went even further, asserting that Mrs. Clinton ‘should be shot in a firing squad’. And here’s the thing: no one really bats an eyelid at such cavalier declarations. It is almost as if political image has become so debased that we don’t expect anything better from our politicians than dodgy stunts and ridiculous demonstrations. I feel compelled to mention ‘wanker mayor’ Anthony Weiner here, eponymous subject of the reputably fantastic documentary Weiner and congressman come mayoral candidate, who repeatedly gets caught out sending nudes to his twitter followers.


Still, perhaps we get the politics we deserve. With the truncated, instant communication of a social media that encourages reflexive, binary response (so much easier to hashtag the Chilcot inquiry than actually plough through 2.6 million words of the report) and an abiding need for distraction, which is provided for by an entertainment skewed media positioning our most insidious politicos as little more than cartoon characters (haha, look at Farage’s moustache! Oh Nige! Haha, Boris on his bike, etc), the message has been mandated by the mediums we use.

The suggestion that political nuance and meaning has been trammelled by a media as subjective as it is superficial is lightly explored in The Congressman, a resolutely old fashioned political drama written and co-directed (along with Jared Martin) by an actual ex-congressman, Robert Mrazek (a 10 year vet of the House of Representatives: scandal free).

Treat Williams (looking just like a teddy bear, one of those expensive ones that comes dressed in a suit) plays Charlie Winship, a principled, but incredibly na├»ve, Congressman, who finds himself at the centre of a smear campaign encouraged by phantom menace Laird Devereaux (you’d think the baroque name would have given it away, along with Laird being played by George Hamilton, who these days looks like something out of a horror film). Charlie refuses to stand for the pledge of allegiance, chins an aggressive house member during a basketball game, and, when confronted about his supposed lack of patriotism, inadvertently performs a Sieg Heil on camera whilst trying to explain the Bellamy salute! Oh dear. Manipulated by Laird, Charlie’s advisor Jared (Ryan Merriman) whisks his befuddled boss - whom he refers to as a ‘cynical Vietnam hero’, because, of course, Charlie’s actions stem from nothing less than a deep seated patriotism - to a remote island in the Atlantic. ‘Have faith, this is America’, the old soak says, but is he trying to convince his ambitious companion or, indeed, himself?


Pointedly, the fishing community that constitute the island’s populace decry technology: none of them have mobile phones and they even eschew television! They’re at the mercy of big business, who threaten their homely fishermen with guns, and scrape the ocean floor for lobster (‘I don’t need to tell you what these big ocean trawlers do to the marlin, the cod and the flounders’ runs one poignant exposition). But while these islanders may be eccentric, they’re also salt of the earth, and may just be able to rescue a couple of fishes out of water; both reigniting Winship’s flailing idealism and disabusing Jared of his duplicity.

Yes, The Congressman is a Local Hero style narrative, which offers a reassuring blend of nostalgia and escapism. The conservative with a small c community challenge the visitors’ highfaluting ways, with the downhome folk having no truck with the mass media manipulations of the mainland, and less patience for the corporate pressures upon their waters. Jared learns about the hard earned sweat of an honest day’s work, while Charlie’s political mojo is quietly stoked by the integrity of the island, where a ‘whole way of life is being rubbed out’ (modernity is the explicit villain here, with progress positioned as callous and, rather simplistically, synonymous with greed.). It helps that both politicos get some action too, Charlie with the gorgeous librarian (played by Elizabeth Marvel, and who, in a pleasing show of independence, is unashamed of her sex positive promiscuity) while hitherto hetero Jared gradually begins to fall for the soulful eyed fisherman who patches him up after a disastrous voyage (another pleasing surprise). And all this playing out within lavishly framed shots of the island, which is all apricot skies, inky depths and rugged rocks the colour of pewter (much respect to DoP Joe Arcidiacono, the film looks especially lovely).


Ok, The Congressman has about the political depth of a Buzzfeed article, but this is to miss the point; this is feelgood fare. And, actually, it feels pretty good. The characters are well drawn, and the plot moves reassuringly towards an outcome as satisfying as it is foreseeable. Towards the end when the fatcats from Washington catch up with the island they find Jared has swapped his icy blue glare and power suits for a dopey grin and a lumberjack shirt. He’s gone native. Similarly, you too may find yourself falling hook, line and sinker for The Congressman.

The Congressman is on DVD September 6th.




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