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Movie Review

Swing Vote

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language.

Reviewed by: Thaisha Geiger
CONTRIBUTOR

Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults, Teens
Genre:
Comedy, Drama
Length:
1 hr. 40 min.
Year of Release:
2008
USA Release:
August 1, 2008 (wide—2,000 theaters)
DVD release: January 13, 2009
Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista

What part should morality play in politics? Answer

Does character matter in political leaders? Answer

Voting—Do Christians have an obligation to vote? Answer

Should Christians seek political power or should we only focus on evangelism? Answer

Drunkenness

Family Answers HOME page
Parenting
Featuring: Kevin Costner
Dances with Wolves,” “Mr. Brooks,” “The Guardian

Kelsey Grammer
X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Back to You” (TV series)

Dennis Hopper
“Speed,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Easy Rider”

Stanley Tucci
The Devil Wears Prada,” “The Terminal,” “Lucky Number Slevin

George Lopez, Paula Patton, Nathan Lane, Judge Reinhold, Mare Winningham, Willie Nelson, Bill Maher, Larry King, Madeline Carroll, Mary Hart, Richard Petty, Campbell Brown, Chris Matthews, Arianna Huffington, [more]
Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Producer: Kevin Costner, Terry Dougas, Ted Field, Robin Jonas, Paris Kasidokostas Latsis, Todd Lewis, Jim Wilson
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista

“One ordinary guy is giving the candidates a reason to run. One vote changes everything.”

I must immediately start this review by stating that this film does indeed have a political statement. However, Republicans and Democrats are not the main targets. Each side is shown in a common, dreary light. The film’s stance displays the modern corruption of today’s political arena and how politicians will do almost anything to win. From bribery to supporting causes they don’t even believe in, politicians want to “court” the American voters.

Earnest Johnson (Kevin Costner) is a drunk. If that weren’t bad enough, he is the single father of twelve-year-old Molly (Madeline Carroll). Instead of calling him Dad, she calls him Bud after his favorite beer. She often wakes him up, cooks him breakfast, and makes sure he goes to work.

After her teacher convinces Molly that voting is a civic responsibility, Molly registers Bud to vote. She urges Bud to meet her after work at the voting precinct for him to cast his vote for the upcoming presidential election. Unsurprisingly, he forgets, stumbles out of the bar, and passes out in his truck. Disappointed by her father’s no show, Molly forges her father’s signature and decides to place his vote. Right before she decides, the booth is accidentally shut off and counts the vote as invalid.

As the nationwide voting closes down, the presidential race is drawing to a heated end. New Mexico’s Electoral College will decide on the next President of the United States. The race is so close that it dwindles down to the one vote that had been considered invalid. The search is on to find the voter who will determine the next president.

Unaware of his daughter’s fiasco, Bud soon finds out when men in fancy suits tell him his vote was not counted. According to New Mexico statute, Bud is allowed to revote. After some discussion, Bud and Molly decide to lie about her involvement. He is arranged to recast his ballot in ten days. After his identity is revealed by the local media, the current President and the running opponent waste no time in researching Bud Johnson. Rushing to New Mexico with their team of advisors, both men attempt to bribe the one man who will effectively choose their future.

Andy first meets with the current Republican president Andy Boone (Kelsey Grammar). Boone wishes to cure cancer and believes that America needs a president with a bright smile to represent them. He begins his bribe by inviting Bud on Air Force One and offering him a beer. Bud then meets with Democratic presidential candidate Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper). Instead of a White House, Greenleaf wants a Rainbow house where every race and religious creed are accepted. He begins his attempt to bribe Bud by throwing a dinner party where Bud’s favorite foods, music, and sports talk are all strategically placed and discussed.

Although the movie has an enormously talented cast and a quite creative plot, I found this movie to be a waste of time. From beginning to end, I felt the film not to be a comedy but more of a sad drama. Most of the characters are rather two dimensional. Both presidential hopefuls are shown to be conniving. They quickly jump on any bandwagon Bud hints at. From increasing border patrol to legalizing gay marriage, both men stop at almost nothing to win over Bud. All throughout the movie, he gets drunk, happily accepts bribes, and emotionally neglects his daughter.

Bud’s growing up comes far too late for my taste. Only until about the last 15 minutes of the movie does he put down his beer and suddenly takes an interest in the voice of the common people and his daughter. What kept me hanging on was to see the presidential debate and his decision of the future president. Let potential viewers be forewarned, we are never told. Perhaps the cliffhanger was created in hopes of a dramatic and thought-provoking ending. Instead, I felt barraged by the producer’s opinion of America’s political system.

Offensive Content

There is quite a lot of offense in the movie. There are about 50 uses of profanity, including 24 sh_t and 7 GDs; the Lord’s name is said in vain about 17 times. Within the first two minutes, three utterances are said, setting the tone for the film. Molly does tell her father to quit using Jesus’ name as a curse word since He is the savior of a billion people. During the elaborate party, Bud’s friend thanks him by looking down at a woman’s chest. The camera then briefly zooms in on her cleavage. President Boone does not hesitate to run an ad supporting gay marriage, insisting that gays will be able to exchange the sacred vows. Lying and deception are shown as acceptable in the movie, especially if one can gain from it. However, this is not only limited to Boone and Greenleaf. While debating what to do about the invalid vote, Bud and Molly decide that lying is the best plan, since it is only “one little white lie.”

In the beginning of the film, I wondered why Molly had an attitude towards her father, but I soon found out why. Getting drunk and cursing in front of her, Bud discourages his daughter. When he fails to show up for her “Bring Your Father” school day, my heart nearly broke as Molly stood up there without her father and cried to the class, convincing them and herself that Bud actually cares about picking the best candidate. The relationship between Molly and Bud is very realistic in its portrayal, and it’s one I far too often see as a teacher. No, Bud never does physically abuse her, but physical bruises often heal much more quickly than the bruises to a child’s heart. While people commonly know the commandment of obeying one’s mother and father, Paul wrote in Colossians 3:21,

“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Throughout the film, the candidates would often feel a certain nag that their briberies were wrong. Their advisers quickly justified it by convincing them that “winning is everything.” Why were they so easily convinced? Simple, they are selfish. Before we point the finger to corrupt politicians, we must examine ourselves. How many times have we (Christians or not) been selfish and justified putting our own needs or wants above others? We should remember what Paul wrote to the Philippians.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others” (2:3-4).

“Swing Vote” is making the political statement that politicians are morally corrupt, trying their best to win the voters over. Does this mean not to vote? No, not at all. I still plan on voting this year. Besides taking that stance, this movie is also an almost relentless train of product placement—from businesses to different political and social groups. As for entertainment, I do not believe it has anything to offer. With all that in mind, I do not recommend this film.

Violence: None / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


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Movie Critics
…one of the most surprising, politically suggestive movies to come out of Hollywood this year. … a mainstream, eager-to-please, relatively generic endeavor, not an auteurist showcase…
—Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
…Equal-opportunity jabs and crass language lose this election by a landslide vote, but I still wish I could give the film more props. Because underneath its brassy lapel pin, Swing Vote is a film about responsibility—responsibility to country, responsibility to family. …
—Paul Asay, Plugged In
…‘Swing Vote’ is messy and its targets are relatively safe. But its aim is true. And Costner's performance hits the bull's-eye. …
—Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer
…‘Swing Vote’ has the potential to be a scathing indictment of the lengths to which politicians will pander for power, but the script pulls most of its punches by presenting Boone and Greenleaf as fairly decent, moral individuals. …
—Chris Knight, National Post
…New Costner political ‘dramedy’ wastes power of one… overall, the material is lame as well as farfetched, and whenever the melodrama rears its ugly head (Molly longs for her wayward mom), the flicker of comedy fizzles. …
—Barry Paris, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
…entertaining and, except for way too much foul language, fairly clean, but it has some plot holes and politically correct content. …
—Movieguide