The Best Man (1964)
Brilliant political novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Gore Vidal adapted his own hit play into this attack on dirty politics. An elder and ailing president refuses to support any of his party’s hopefuls for his successor, and five men vie for the nomination, which will almost certainly mean a victory in the election. Henry Fonda (The Grapes of Wrath) stars as the most moral of the candidates, and when he finds dirt on one of his rivals, he must decide how far he’s willing to go to become the president. The film, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton), explores the battle between his morality and his desire to win the nomination.
Primary Colors (1998)
This thinly veiled semi-biography on Bill Clinton follows a southern governor (John Travolta as Jack Stanton) in his campaign for the White House, as he faces accusations of adultery and deals with the challenges presented by a massive political race. Opponents dig up dirt and supporters refute it in the endless political battle that defines any campaign. Director Mike Nichols (The Graduate) examines Travolta’s character from the perspective of husband, friend, and politician, and allows viewers to individually determine their feelings about the man, instead of having the film tell them what to think. Kathy Bates turns in a great supporting role as Travolta’s longtime friend and adviser.
The War Room (1993)
Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, long known for their concert documentaries (Monterey Pop), turned their focus to politics in this Oscar-nominated look at Bill Clinton’s campaign for president in 1992. The featured players include campaign leader James Carville, press spokesman-turned political commentator George Stephanopoulos, and Clinton himself, as the film gets inside their race for the White House and successfully examines the inner workings of a political machine. Clinton’s staffers are forced to deal not only with the other party (led by Carville’s future wife, Mary Matalin), but also with the potentially disastrous charges of adultery levied against Clinton during the campaign.