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Jay Roach
Kevin Spacey, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Laura Dern, John Hurt, Denis Leary, Bruce McGill, Tom Wilkinson, Mitch Pileggi
Writing Credits:
Danny Strong

HBO Films presents Recount, the true story chronicling the turbulent weeks in Florida after the 2000 presidential election. The film explores one of the most dramatic and controversial events in recent U.S. election history that shook a nation's faith in the ability to stage a fair and open election. Recount takes a look at the ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary events that would ultimately decide the leadership of the country.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.78:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 8/19/08

• Audio Commentary with Director Jay Roach and Writer Danny Strong
• “The True Inside Story of the 2000 Presidential Election” Featurette
• “A Conversation Between Kevin Spacey and the Real Ron Klain” Featurette
• “A Conversation Between Bob Balaban and the Real Ben Ginsberg” Featurette


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Recount (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 14, 2008)

Man, has it really been eight years since the 2000 presidential election? The calendar on the wall says “yes”, but it feels much longer to me; all the political water under the bridge over the last eight years makes the crazy events of November/December 2000 seem like a million years ago.

Which allows Recount to come across as a good history reminder. The HBO film looks at the controversies that occurred as the competition between Al Gore and George W. Bush went into overtime. We start on Election Day and quickly get a hint of potential problems due to a confusing ballot on Florida. From there we meet Ron Klain (Kevin Spacey), Gore’s former Chief of Staff Ron Klain (Kevin Spacey) who suffered a demotion some years earlier, though he still maintains a strong position in the campaign. We also visit the Republican camp to encounter Bush’s chief counsel Ben Ginsberg (Bob Balaban).

With that we check out the election coverage and all its issues. Initially it appears that Bush has won and Gore will concede, but Gore’s chief field operative Michael Whouley (Denis Leary) runs the numbers and sees it’s too close to call. This launches a massive attempt to get the figures correct in Florida. This brings Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris (Laura Dern) into play, and more controversies, some connected to her status as a Bush campaign bigwig.

Klain heads up the efforts in Florida to shore up the Gore side of things, while the Republicans bring in their own big gun in the person of former Secretary of State James Baker (Tom Wilkinson). The Democrats counter with their own former Secretary of State, Warren Christopher (John Hurt). Though the pair share the same old job description, they adopt differing viewpoints: Baker sees this as a “political street fight”, while Christopher prefers a more high-minded tone. The flick follows all the ups and downs of the efforts as the seemingly endless battle proceeds.

When you think of directors likely to handle political material of this sort, Jay Roach doesn’t readily come to mind. He made his bones with broad comedies like the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents movies, so real-life drama like this doesn’t appear to be in his wheelhouse.

As it happens, Roach does just fine with the subject matter. Actually, he does much better than “just fine”, as he produces a terrific little piece of political drama here. Granted, one could argue that a chimp with a camcorder could produce something lively given the nature of the source material; it doesn’t take much to wring drama out of this wild affair.

But that shouldn’t minimize just how well Roach works his way through the craziness of the 2000 election. I had almost forgotten what a nutty situation that whole thing was. It wasn’t just a once in a lifetime event; it may’ve been the most closely contested presidential contest in US history. (The election of 1876 probably still wears the crown, though.)

Roach grabs hold of the source material and runs with it. He keeps things moving at a great pace and turns it into a real thriller. Some might expect a drama about counting votes to be deadly dull, but the opposite proves true here. In reality, Recount plays like a thriller. It throws out many breathless moments and keeps us glued to the screen as we go from one seemingly insane scenario to another.

Roach manages to keep the tone serious but leavens it with comic relief at opportune times. Which brings us to Katherine Harris. Some may object to the film’s portrayal of the former Florida Secretary of State, as it proves none too complimentary. Actually, it makes her look like a dope. I don’t know how close to reality that presentation comes, but Harris does turn in much of the movie’s comedy.

I debated whether or not I thought Dern went too far in her rather exaggerated performance, but to be honest, she gives us such a hilarious piece of work that I can forgive any possible sins. At times, Dern does seem to be out of step with the rest of the movie simply because she makes Harris so overtly comic. Nonetheless, the performance works; Dern lights up the flick whenever she appears.

And that’s not easy to do given the caliber of the rest of the cast. It packs multiple Oscar winners and nominees; there’s not a dog in the bunch, and across the board, they provide excellent turns. Spacey grounds the film since Klain becomes the main character, and the other actors keep up with him as well. This is a stellar ensemble cast.

Heck, I liked Recount so much that I was even able to ignore the usually annoying use of shaky handheld camerawork! It’s tough to make something that comes from such recent and familiar source material this interesting, but Roach and company pull it off – and then some. Recount is an excellent political drama. If only it had a different ending!

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

Recount appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though still watchable, the transfer seemed lackluster at best.

Sharpness usually appeared acceptable. Close-ups looked best, as they demonstrated decent clarity and accuracy. However, wider shots tended to be a bit soft and fuzzy, a factor exacerbated by some notable edge haloes. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and source flaws were absent, though the movie was rather grainy much of the time.

Colors remained mediocre. Granted, the flick went with a low-key tone, but the hues seemed rather flat much of the time and didn’t look as natural as I’d have liked. Blacks were reasonably dark and dense, while shadows showed good clarity. This was an acceptable presented but no better than that.

Nothing about a political drama screams “rock-em, sock-em audio”, so I didn’t expect much from the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Recount. And I didn’t get much from it, but that was fine given the scope of the film. Music showed good stereo imaging, and effects presented minor environmental information. Events like press conferences proved the most active, as they showed some activity in the side and rear channels. These segments didn’t pop up too frequently, though, so the chatty film concentrated on a low-key soundfield.

Audio quality was fine. Speech became the most important part of the track, and the lines always appeared concise and natural. Music was a moderate factor, as the score remained a background element. The music sounded reasonably lively and full within those constraints, though. Effects were also clear and accurate, though they didn’t have much to do. The soundtrack was more than acceptable for this material.

A few extras complete the DVD. We start with an audio commentary from director Jay Roach and writer Danny Strong. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific track that looks at research and attempts at accuracy, cast, characters and performances, sets and shooting in Florida, factual background info, cinematic influences, condensing such a big story into a movie, and a few opinions about the source material.

The commentary concentrates more on factual issues than it does filmmaking topics, and that’s fine with me. Some may get frustrated by the relative lack of material about the flick’s creation, but Roach and Strong offer enough info in that vein to satisfy me. I like the way the track acts as annotation for the film; this allows us to get a better understanding for what we’re seeing and the various contexts. The men make this a chatty and engaging discussion.

Three featurettes follow. The True Inside Story of the 2000 Presidential Election goes for eight minutes, 36 seconds as it provides remarks from Roach, Strong, Too Close to Call author Jeffrey Toobin, executive producer Paula Weinstein, Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters, and actors Bob Balaban, Kevin Spacey, Laura Dern, Tom Wilkinson, Denis Leary, Ed Begley, Jr., and John Hurt. “Story” examines research and accuracy in the film, the focus of the script, shooting in Florida, cast, characters and performances, and the general craziness of the 2000 election.

Virtually all of these subjects were covered in the commentary, and they came across in a much less promotional manner there. “Story” essential tells us “Recount is real!!! And it’s real great!!!” It’s not particularly informative or engaging.

Two similar pieces come next. A Conversation Between Kevin Spacey and the Real Ron Klain runs seven minutes, 17 seconds, while A Conversation Between Bob Balaban and the Real Ben Ginsberg lasts five minutes, 26 seconds. The chats concentrate on the “real” subjects more than they do the actors; much of the time, Spacey and Balaban essentially act as interviewers, though they toss in their own thoughts about the story as well.

Nonetheless, as far as viewers are concerned, it’s most interesting to see the real people behind the movie characters so we can compare and contrast the reality with their portrayal in the movie. It’s also good to simply see the men, especially since they don’t necessarily look like the actors; Klain seems to be much younger than Spacey, and he has a much more substantial head of hair. Balaban and Ginsberg maintain a much closer resemblance. Anyway, the conversations prove interesting and enjoyable.

While I wasn’t sure how interesting a film about voting would be, Recount gives us a riveting piece of work. The flick moves at a great pace and turns the source material into fascinating drama. The DVD comes with average picture, audio and extras. I can’t call this a stellar DVD, but the movie itself definitely merits your attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 12
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