October 24, 2003
By Kevin Crust
In the political documentary "The Party's Over," actor Philip Seymour Hoffman serves as a guide crisscrossing the country, scrutinizing the political process during the presidential election of 2000. Directed by Donovan Leitch and Rebecca Chaiklin, it's something of a sequel to 1993's "The Last Party," a similar endeavor that chronicled the events leading to the election of Bill Clinton.
Structured around visits to the two major conventions, the documentary is adept at contrasting these restricted, made-for-television events with the grittier world outside of protests and shadow conventions.
The film poses the question: Is there a difference between the Democratic and Republican parties? And the answer it comes up with is, well, complicated, which makes the film highly entertaining and thought-provoking, but also frustrating -- which, ultimately, might be the point.
The film sports an unabashedly liberal point of view, what might be called Alternative Left, and takes an analytic rather than persuasive approach to covering the election year. The minor-key questions the movie asks ("Do our voices matter?" "Can we make a difference?" "Should we care?") are what resonate rather than the comparison of the two parties.
Interviews with liberal activists such as Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky and Jesse Jackson on the one hand and lesser-known conservatives on the other are strung together with clips of Charlton Heston's "from my cold, dead hands" speech and Pat Robertson addressing his faithful.
The film and Hoffman also travel to points far afield, ranging from a gun show where he debates dealers on firearms controls to a Ruckus Society camp where potential protesters are schooled in the art of civil disobedience, and Willie Nelson's annual Farm Aid benefit.
The redundancies between the two political behemoths are mainly found at the conventions, in the parties' rhetoric ("We're for education and family values") and the ways they try to make their candidate look more "presidential" in the battle for the moderate voter, and more pointedly, in the issues they sidestep: poverty, health care and the environment. Beyond that, the differences still seem clear between the parties' demographics. What the film seems to be angling for is an accountability of the Democrats' abandonment of the true left. Early on, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) lays it out with an explanation that while the left protests and demonstrates, the right gets out and votes. "You never see the NRA having a shoot-in," says Frank.
The film also charts a political awakening for the initially wary Hoffman. "I always had an aversion to politics," says the actor at the beginning of the film. "Can't say why." A well-respected film and theater actor, Hoffman gradually becomes more devoted, inquisitive and even frustrated as the process plays out before him; his fatigue on the eve of the election is well-earned.
Hoffman is especially good in the little moments, when a camera captures his incredulity or skepticism during an interview, or his ironic mouthing of the words while Lee Greenwood's saccharine "God Bless the USA (Proud to Be an American)" is performed at a confab for Christian conservatives.
Three years later, the most lasting impressions are not only that the domestic issues such as poverty and homelessness that the film looks at have not been addressed, but that they're no longer even being discussed in a meaningful way, blotted out by issues such as Iraq and homeland security that dominate the ever-willing media's coverage.
Part of the frustration with the film comes from the conflicting feelings it elicits. One, a helplessness that the gravitational pull of the two-party system toward the middle leaves those with a point of view on
--Kevin Crust/ Los Angeles Times - Review
Politics as usual
By Maitland McDonagh
A gentler, more befuddled Michael Moore, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman shambles through this documentary about the events leading up to George W. Bush's 2000 election, the conclusion of arguably the most contentious, bitterly divisive presidential races of the 20th century, the first whose outcome was decided by the Supreme Court. Hoffman, director Donovan Leitch (actor-model-musician and son of '60s pop idol Donovan) and his crew cover both the Democratic and the Republican National Conventions, as well as ancillary events. They interview professional politicos ranging from liberals Ralph Nader, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and openly gay Congressman Barney Frank to conservatives Newt Gingrich and Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, eliciting the usual practiced responses. Hoffman talks to politically active celebrities, controversial academic Noam Chomsky and professional gadflies Bill Maher and, yes, Michael Moore. But he also seeks out a cross-section of people in their teens and 20s who, if not the impassioned firebrands who burned so brightly during the 1960s, give the lie to the notion that their generation is uniformly apathetic and invested in shallow consumer culture. Leitch and Hoffman seek out the Ruckus Society, which teaches activist groups how to organize effective protests and civil actions, and document the Los Angeles "Shadow Convention," held within spitting distance of L.A.'s luxurious downtown Staples Center, which hosted the Democratic National Convention. The Shadow Convention offered debates, forums and panels for groups with diverse, non-mainstream political and social goals. Leitch's crew also captures disturbing footage of protests in the streets of Philadelphia, Seattle (during the World Trade Organization summit) and Los Angeles of local police behaving exactly like their counterparts 35 years earlier, treating peaceful, if noisy, demonstrators like rioting mobs. The question driving the film is straightforward. What is the future of democracy when a substantial portion of an entire generation believes there's no difference between the Democratic and Republican parties, that there are no meaningful alternative parties, that corporate interests buy and sell elected officials and that everyone in public office lies? Leitch's previous foray into political documentary, the sloppy, anarchic THE LAST PARTY (1992) was overwhelmed by the juvenile antics of its host, Robert Downey Jr. Hoffman establishes a more sober tone, though the new film isn't without its lighter moments. The sequence in which the crew acquires press credentials to the Republican National Convention by helping organizers desperate to book a rock band (they deliver Leitch's scruffy pals the Interpreters USSA) is priceless.
--Maitland McDonagh/ TV Guide - Review