Occasionally heavy-handed, but still both funny and chilling
Jon E Johnson | Boston, Massachusetts | 08/28/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Bob Roberts," Tim Robbins' 1992 fictional account of the political campaign of a folk-singing conservative businessman, is a remarkable film. Echoing D.A. Pennebaker's 1966 documentary "Don't Look Back" (which covered Bob Dylan's 1965 U.K. tour; a number of scenes in "Bob Roberts" are cribbed directly from the Pennebaker film), "Bob Roberts" follows the title character (played by Robbins, who also directs and writes here) in his 1990 Senatorial campaign against Brickley Paiste, a once-vigorous, but now-weary and increasingly disenchanted New Frontier-era liberal democrat (played by author Gore Vidal). Roberts, who had made a fortune on Wall Street during the '80s, first gains national attention in the late '80s with a pair of critically panned, but commercially successful albums (clever homages to two early '60s Dylan albums) of right-wing country-folk songs. Using his musical fame as a springboard, Roberts embarks on his political career, backed by press aide Chet MacGregor (Ray Wise) and the shadowy Lukas Hart III (Alan Rickman, whose Mephistophelean presence almost steals the movie). Along the way, Roberts is tailed by journalist Bugs Raplin (Giancarlo Esposito), who is eventually framed for an assassination attempt on Roberts when he gets too close to uncovering Hart's and Roberts' shady involvement in both the Iran-Contra and S&L debacles of the '80s. Largely viewed at the time of its release as a broad slap at the New Right, in retrospect Robbins is nearly as critical of the Old Left. Vidal's Brickley Paiste is old, tired, and nearly irrelevant (and, sadly, seems to know it). If Robbins is scathing in his indictment of the Right, Paiste symbolizes Robbins' criticism of the Left for their lack of energy and ideas. Given the kind of pasting Democrats received in the '94 election, more of them would have done well to pay attention to Robbins' uncannily prescient warning. Cameos abound. Watch for the likes of Susan Sarandon, Helen Hunt, and others as reporters, as well as country singer Kelly Willis as Joan Baez to Robbins' Dylan. One final note: In a perfect example of life imitating art once again, "Bob Roberts" neatly foreshadowed R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor's "A Perfect Candidate," a 1996 documentary of Oliver North's 1994 Virginia Senate campaign. Ironically, Cutler had been invited by North's handlers to film the campaign because they had liked his earlier documentary, "The War Room," on which Cutler had worked with - you guessed it - D.A. Pennebaker. Watch all three in chronological order someday if you have the time."
Make Money by any means Necessary
Dark Mechanicus JSG | Fortified Bunker, USSA | 10/13/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"By 1992, actor and leftist-liberal firebrand Tim Robbins had come a long way since his thankless role in the George Lucas uber-flop "Howard the Duck", and "Bob Roberts" displayed that the actor who had turned in fine performances in gritty movies like "The Player", "Jacob's Ladder", and---erm---"Erik the Viking" (he played Erik, and *I* liked it, anyway) had solid directorial chops, as well. "Bob Roberts" is a gimlet-eyed little mockumentary chronicling the rise, fall and rise of merciless, villainous, Machiavellian and media-savvy politician Bob Roberts, who---as the film's opening sequence makes clear---is a man of many talents: former West Pointer, Wall Street trader and stock market guru, self-made millionaire, and right-wing folk singer. Folk singer? That's the clever little hook on which Robbins hangs his skillful little fusillade against mindless political partisanship: Roberts has appropriated the Rebel Prophet image crafted at Woodstock for himself, and---horrors!---for right-wing Republican politics. Roberts is an ingenious political animal, having picked up a guitar and made the transition from Woodstock to Wall Street---and now he wants Main Street. The plot is simplicity itself: "Bob Roberts" is played with a straight face as the'documentary' of the 1992 Bob Roberts Pennsylvania senatorial campaign, produced and 'directed' by fictional documentarian Terry Manchester (played convincingly by veteran British actor Brian Murray). Robbins, along with cinematographer Jean LePine (who worked with Robbins on "The Player), has captured the documentary feel---and shows a flair for music videos as well; the Roberts remake of an old Bob Dylan video (entitled "Wall Street Rap") is one of the funniest things I've ever seen, and continues Roberts's plunder of leftist icons: the last cue-cards Roberts tosses into the street read: "Make...Money...by..any...Means...Necessary". Robbins keeps up a taut and feverish MTV-like pace, charting Roberts's professional and political ride through interviews with parents, teachers, and friends, splicing them together with television appearances, interviews aboard the Roberts campaign bus (which doubles as a fully functional stock trading floor), and sequences from Roberts's folk concerts, where the candidate takes up his guitar and comes across as what might have happened had someone spliced Bob Dylan's genes with those of Rush Limbaugh.That said, Robbins keeps the fun, intrigue, and political chicanery at a boil, and "Bob Roberts" is studded with famous faces all pulling off solid performances: Gore Vidal as the calcified liberal opponent, a young Jack Black as Bob's Number One Fan, Giancarlo Esposito as the tireless independent reporter digging for the truth, Alan Rickman as a scowling campaign supporter (and Black Ops mastermind) in dark glasses, Ray Wise as the gung-ho campaign manager, and Susan Sarandon, Fred Ward, and James Spader as clueless (and absolutely hysterical!) network TV anchors round out the C-SPAN-fueled goodness. "
Commedable But Too Obvious!
Dark Mechanicus JSG | 07/06/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I loved the wry, Republican-bashing in this film, but did it have to spell everything out in caps? We were quite aware of Bob Roberts' packaging concept without it having to be explained to us by various characters, especially so humorlessly. John Cusack's little lecture was especially patronizing.Being spoon-fed a message only diminishes your enjoyment of a film, especially a satire. But I'm opposed to it on more than aesthetic grounds. Mainstream Americans hate liberals because they see us as elitist, condescending, and a little contemptuous of them. Heavy-handed films like this only reinforce that image."
Superb DVD of a sharp political satire
Captain Z | Los Angeles, CA United States | 12/28/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As many reviewers have already pointed out this is a very smart and funny movie. Extremely well written, acted and directed, and very relevant in light of the recent "voting irregularities" and media manipulation during the 2000 Presidential election. I strongly recommend the DVD version, as it includes three separate feature length Audio Commentaries: The first done by actor/director/writer Tim Robbins in the early 1990s, the second is Tim Robbins and acclaimed author/actor/historian Gore Vidal recorded recently for the DVD edition, and the third audio commentary features editors of the Counterpunch Newsletter who give detailed information and insight into the Iran/Contra scandal and assorted other items routinely avoided by mainstream media. Definately worth watching several times."