[To celebrate one of our strangest holidays, Groundhog Day, I’ll be AmericanStudying that film as well as four others in the long and unique career of Bill Murray. Leading up to a crowd-sourced post featuring your takes on these and other Murray classics!]
On what we can learn from three of the best dramatic portrayals of presidents on screen.
1) Amistad (1997): I haven’t written much in this space about Steven Spielberg’s 1997 historical epic, other than this brief and complimentary reference. It’s fair to say that in the decades since, as we’ve finally started to see more historical films featuring Americans of color in central rather than supporting roles, even the better “white savior” stories (and Amistad is that to be sure) have come to feel less important as a result. But Amistad still has a great deal to recommend it, and high on that list has to be Anthony Hopkins as former President John Quincy Adams, who comes out of retirement more than a decade after losing his reelection bid to help the film’s Freedom Seekers successfully argue their case before the Supreme Court. What Hopkins’ Adams reminds us is that the arcs of presidents’ lives continue long after their time in office, and, in the best of cases, can evolve and deepen as a result.
2) Lincoln (2012): As that hyperlinked post illustrates, I have dedicated multiple posts to Spielberg’s more recent and more successful historical film. Other than a very unnecessary ending (a hallmark of Spielberg’s best films, I’d argue), I think Lincoln is pretty perfect, and much of that is due to Daniel Day-Lewis’s truly stunning performance. And while the moments that endure in our collective memories of the film are likely the big ones like that “Now!” speech, I believe what makes Day-Lewis’s performance so great and so important are the many layers of humanity he brings to his Lincoln, including (nay, especially, says this DadAmericanStudier) his delight in Dad Jokes. This is a mythic figure brought back to earth in the best ways.
3) Hyde Park on Hudson (2012): The misfortune of being released in the same year as Spielberg’s film is one of a few reasons why Roger Michell’s historical biopic of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and his 1939 relationship with his cousin Daisy Suckley (Laura Linney) didn’t make much of a splash and isn’t well-remembered today. I’m not here to challenge those trends, as I don’t think the film ultimately adds up to much and too often feels like salacious gossip about FDR’s rumored extramarital affairs. But it is a shame that Murray’s performance has been likewise overlooked, as I think it’s one of his best, capturing so much of the wisdom, humor, frailty, and humanity of a president and man dealing with countless challenges (internal as well as external). In particular, Murray quite literally embodies the toll of FDR’s long and ongoing battle with the polio-caused paralysis that afflicted him for the final few decades of his life. Another highlight in Murray’s long and profoundly impressive career.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
PS. So one more time: What do you think? Takes on other Murray films?