The American President Rob Reiner

The American PresidentRob Reiner
It's difficult to find the proper context for The American President. When it was first released in 1995, it was Aaron Sorkin's third screenplay and second collaboration with director Rob Reiner after their hit A Few Good Men. A modest hit itself upon release, it would inspire and eventually be overshadowed by Sorkin's NBC series, The West Wing. While that show was winning awards and critical accolades, The American President would go on to find a new life playing in seemingly endless rotation on cable television. For years, TBS and a notoriously bad DVD transfer were the only ways to find this high-pedigree curiosity. Its re-release on Blu-Ray seems intended to coincide with election season, but the timing couldn't be worse. Following the first-season of Sorkin's newest series, HBO's The Newsroom, not to mention an Internet super-cut of the so-called Sorkinisms that the writer has thoroughly recycled through the years, The American President is staler than ever. President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is a widower, having lost his wife to cancer while campaigning. He prepares for re-election while effortlessly juggling being a single father with being the president of the United States, which largely consists of dryly managing his eccentric but passionate staff. In short, he's the type of "great man" that Sorkin is accustomed to writing about. But as played by Douglas, he comes across as blander than admirable, which is why later Sorkin leads like Tom Hanks or Jeff Daniels would rely on curmudgeonly charm to round out their characters. Douglas is smitten when he meets a fiery environmental lobbyist played by Annette Bening. Bening's performance as a romantically bumbling professional is restrained enough to be respectable, but anyone frustrated at this point by Sorkin's continual paternal admiration for the adorability of women who are uncomfortable with modern technology will have a hard time revisiting this film. The fact is that it's the political subplots that work the best, rather than the love story — an awkward situation for what is ostensibly a romantic-comedy. Even without the strong supporting cast (Michael J. Fox and Martin Sheen, to name a few), the dynamics of the political world are clearly more in Sorkin's wheelhouse. It's easy to see how the momentum from writing this movie gave way to a television series. Even so, not all of it holds up, most of all Richard Dreyfuss's scheming Republican, baring too much similarity (however intentional) to Dick Cheney to not distract modern audiences. Warner should've capitalized on the hype leading up to the premiere of The Newsroom months ago, before audiences were burnt out on the writer's tropes (and election coverage). As is, with only a badly transferred theatrical trailer as its sole bonus feature, this careless release won't help keep the film in the consciousness like the Frank Capra films it pays poor tribute to. (Warner)