Cinema’s Top 10 Most Appalling Republicans

Ah, sweet victory.  After suffering through eight debilitating, soul-crushing years of a Bush regime, it’s nice to see that the good guys are finally building momentum, and re-claiming lost ground.  Indeed, nobody looked on with more satisfied relish than your humble author when Romney offered his short, good-natured concession speech, for this country has suffered under the strain of that bastard’s political party for far too long, and can ill afford to live beneath the boot-heel of that Executive influence once more.  This is not to say that your author is an ardent Democrat (I vote Freak-Power when possible), but I do have a particular distaste for those who champion the conservative politics of intolerance.  Born of so noble a man as Lincoln, the Republicans have successfully bucked every facet of that unrivaled politician’s legacy to create for itself a party defined by close-minded oppression, environmental indifference, and passive bigotry.  During its modern re-birth during the 1960s, Republicans carved for themselves a fantastic niche of hypocrisy, for in the 20th century, their core beliefs were betrayed at their foundation by the means produced to keep the political party afloat.  Historian Lisa McGirr’s outstanding exploration of this (in her book Suburban Warriors) explained how Republicans re-formed at a grass-roots level out of obscurity following Goldwater’s disastrous defeat in ’64.  Housewives in Orange County, CA took it upon themselves to spread the good word about their hateful little political faction, and slowly built up a base that was able to take back the White House in four short years.  This might seem benign enough, except when you take into account the fact that the Orange County area developed only as a result of government subsidies.  Essentially, Republican politics (defined by a lack of government controls and a hands-off approach to governance) survived because bored women in a region born of government subsidies got together and patched the party back together.  This is like PETA having an annual meeting at a slaughterhouse.  The re-birth of the movement would have been impossible had the government not taken that heavy hand and used tax-payer dollars to make Orange County the thriving suburban candy-land that it was.

Such paradoxes within Republican dogma abound, yet I digress.  Let’s get down to business, shall we?  To make today’s list, the movie character in question had to display undeniable Republican traits in light of a particular political ideology of that disgusting, festering sore of a party.  The character had to either clearly be distinguished as a Republican when placed beside a clearly defined Democrat, or had to be referenced in some way as a Republican by title or placard indication.  While they seemed to be right up the elephant-party’s ass-alley, I had to exclude the mom from Detroit Rock City and the neighbor dad from American Beauty, for while both represented the best (or worst, if you will) of Republican dogma, neither was ever referenced (or referenced themselves) as a red-voting whore-monger.  Also, “Senator Geary” from The Godfather, part II was considered along with pretty much every person in documentaries like Jesus Camp and Bruno, but that’s a whole different story (documentaries seemed a little unfair).  I made just one exception in this regard, for it was a man who had been in a number of movies to account for his unscripted presence of another…

10.) Charlton Heston as himself from Bowling for Columbine

Let this man be a lesson to all of you that old age and money can taint even the most balanced, and thoughtful minds.  During the 1960s, Heston was a champion for liberal Democratic causes that defined that decade’s place in American history.  He fought bitterly against segregation, opposed Vietnam, and actually got on board with Johnson’s gun control act of 1968.  Yet at some point during the 70s, the guy obviously lost his shit.  He emerged in 1980 as an unrepentant Republican, and supported Reagan and the conservative base for a period that would continue until his death in 2008.  During the 1990s, Heston fought aggressively against what he perceived to be the shrinking province of the “White Man,” and looked on with disdain as cultural movements that celebrated Mexican, African, and Asian-American pride began to encroach upon the Anglo-Saxon consciousness and nightly news broadcasts.  There was a growing tide of older, white men that looked around and saw their numbers dwindling in both number and influence, and the “liberal media” and stigmatization of W.A.S.P. membership seemed to be at the root of all things evil.

Heston’s most vocal crusade for the Right came in the form of weapons ownership, and his championing of the N.R.A.’s causes.  Despite multiple studies that have found firearm ownership indicative of higher gunshot fatality rates, Heston and his gun-blowing ilk pushed hard against bills and lobbies that sought caps on gun ownership and restrictions on the more dangerous classes of weapons.  In defiance of their opposition, they appeared in Denver in the Spring of 1999, just after the Columbine High School massacre, a move with which filmmaker Michael Moore took exception.  Though a bit overly-sentimental and somewhat sneaky in execution, Moore’s scene in the documentary Bowling For Columbine was striking, for it brought the issue right to Heston, in his face, in a manner not at all to the actor’s liking.  Heston had little to say for himself, or an organization that had just as little tact as it did connections with reality.  But Heston’s dead now, never to return, leaving the film community and whack-jobs everywhere just a few choice lunatics to claim amongst their number…

9.) Tom Cruise as “Senator Jasper Irving” from Lions For Lambs

Cruise’s character was somewhat played out in an appropriate fashion in this thoughtfully-conceived, yet poorly executed picture.  I say this with a heavy heart, for Robert Redford has given much to the cinematic community both in front of, and behind the camera.  Yet there was something lacking with this film, not the least of which was a sense that the director and his picture would provide some kind of answer, or solution to a film that seemed content to offer an endless series of problems.  Yet perhaps that was the point.  The movie was three smaller stories brought together into one connected arc, anchored in large part by Cruise’s “Sen. Irving” and his plan to isolate Taliban pockets of resistance in Afghanistan by using soldiers deployed strategically in forward commands.  The film presented the strategy as a push by the ambitious Republican Senator to secure some political capital during the next election by flexing some degree of military know-how (and ideally, success), yet the reporter he’d brought in to bolster the move (Meryl Streep) was skeptical.  She felt that the plan was mere grandstanding, and that actual efforts on the ground (showcased in another of the plot’s threads) would encounter a situation far more complex than the universe of battles the Senator envisioned.

In theory, the plot was speaking about a domestic war-weary landscape that had begun to cling to any person claiming to have “the solution,” and politicians that had only to maximize on such impressions long enough for an election to pass.  By the time these campaigns had run their course, a new strategy would come into play, and problems more pressing than those which found themselves at the crux of campaign rhetoric and stump-speeches would come to the fore, and those brave soldiers which had died to initiate an election-push would be forgotten as numbers by all those except the families which could never completely recover from so devastating a loss.  To well-meaning Democrats, such truths scream out as protests against foes on the Right who relentlessly pursue so callous a line, yet to a public aware of such tactics, at least those willing to see through these machinations, it is just retread.  Republicans swallow the new “strategies” and “plans” as genuine concern while pretty much everybody else sees it for the political show-boating it is.  Cruise’s character simply became the shadow of so many vile politicians stalking the halls of government that are given far more screen time (via television) than a short 90 minute movie could ever compete with.  For this, the movie bombed, not because it was a poor film, but because it expected its audience to be shocked by what it saw.

8.) Robert Duvall as “Maj. Frank Burns” from M*A*S*H

While M*A*S*H never clearly stated that “Frank Burns” (Robert Duvall) was a Republican, his ignorance in the face of reality combined with a total inability to see through the Korean War’s futility put him in line with the worst of cinema’s conservative ilk.  Besides, as loyal viewers of the television show can attest (as seen in the 4th season opener “Welcome To Korea”), Frank did establish his Republican credentials via a confirmation of the fact, so there you have it.  In the movie, his galling hypocrisy was on stage for all to witness, as he spouted religious piety while carrying on an affair with the head nurse, “Margaret.”  Though the Bible teaches tolerance, Frank seemed to have no problems invading a country while making a pass at “enlightening” a culture ten times as storied as his own.

When Hawkeye arrived, Frank was teaching a local boy looking for a little extra cash the finer points of the Bible.  Perhaps his most disgusting act of Christian betrayal came in the operating room, where he blamed the death of a soldier on an orderly (Bud Cort) who did nothing more than his job.  Had Burns been a better soldier, he might have saved the man, yet without the balls to admit so humiliating a fact, he deflected blame on another.  Not that this is rare for Republican whore-mongers, as they have perfected the practice of pointing fingers so long as they aren’t doing it in front of a mirror.  Hawkeye and Duke got the bastard back, though, and saw to it that the good Major was sent to the only place appropriate for a Republican: a mental institution.  As bad as Frank was, though, at least he didn’t ruin anybody else’s career other than his own…

7.) Gary Oldman as “Rep. Sheldon Runyon” from The Contender

Drowning scandals, college initiation orgies, cocky Presidents, and Republican-to-Democrat switches?  Oh, hell yeah!  This one got swallowed up in the confusion of the early 00’s, but I’ll stand beside it as a worthy, taught little political thriller.  Jeff Bridges, just a few years after playing “The Dude,” portrayed the fictional President “Jackson Evans,” perhaps the most outstanding name for a cinematic head-of-state in the history of film.  Evans had lost his V.P. well into his second term, and was getting pressure from both sides of the aisle to appoint some prick that had just jumped into a lake in an attempt to rescue a drowning girl.  The Chief went another direction, however, and chose to make a symbolic gesture toward equality, and picked a female Senator who had just switched to the donkeys from the elephants.  Pulling out all the stops on the path toward embodying unapologetic evil, Congressman “Shelley Runyon,” played wonderfully by the always reliable Gary Oldman, started a campaign to burn the woman and her nomination to cinders.  Runyon got busy raking mud and the like, and quickly found shaky evidence that connected this female candidate, Joan Allen’s “Sen. Hanson,” to a wild sorority orgy fueled in no small part by booze and confused, delicious experimentation.

During her confirmation hearings, Sen. Hanson refused to acknowledge, even via a denial, anything pertaining to a personal life prior to her entry in politics, as she felt to do so would dignify an inappropriate line of questioning.  Though it proved that she had character and principles, her failure to repudiate the perverse accusations during a process that was supposed to operate at the highest levels of political dignity gave the Republicans just enough ammo to continue with the attacks, and before long, having been given an inch, Runyon took a mile.  He produced a witness that testified that Hanson had slept with that woman’s husband just prior to a divorce, then circulated rumors that the supposed orgy was orchestrated for money, thus making Hanson a de-facto whore.  Throughout the entire ordeal, Allen’s character refused to lower herself to the Republican level of shit-eating slander, and remained dignified up to the end.  The film touched upon a well-established proclivity of the Right: mainly their love of finger-pointing in the absence of dedicated research and reason.  By the conclusion of the film, Runyon was exposed as a base political hack who supported a scandalized Virginia governor, and Sen. Hanson was vindicated.  But if we’re going to speak about shitty Republican cowards who vandalize the reputations of others so as to gain political breathing room, we’d be remiss to leave off…

6.) Richard Dreyfuss as “Sen. Bob Rumson” from The American President

This was a nice, quaint, admittedly idealistic picture of the best things a Presidency should offer a country, and Michael Douglas deserves credit for balancing the act with seeming ease.  He played the widowed “Andrew Shepherd,” a Democrat Commander-in-Chief with a surplus of dignity and intelligence.  Facing a sticky diplomatic situation with the President of France coming to town with his wife, Shepherd had to quickly come up with a date to a State dinner, and ultimately decided on an environmental lobbyist, Annette Bening’s “Sydney Ellen Wade.”  The President took a shine to the woman’s moxie and found in her an emotional and intellectual equal who stimulated both his mind and his loins.  Though he had been in a fairly comfortable and re-electable position early in the film, his budding relationship with Sydney along with waning support for his crime bill threatened his position in the polls.  A snarky Senator from Kansas jumped on the matter with both feet (Dreyfuss’ “Bob Rumson”), and the balding prick did what Republicans do best: he ignored issues and focused on personal attacks.

The President felt compelled to ignore the mud-slinging directed toward his woman and personal life in general, for he explained that there was no dignity in engaging in a debate with a man who had neither the gumption, tact, nor intellectual capacity to meet Shepherd on an appropriate political field of battle.  For weeks, Rumson harped on the personal relationship of his opponent and drew all the political capital he could from the snide remarks.  And in this, Dreyfuss represented what is most appalling about Republican politics: the proclivity of those swine to ignore pressing issues important to the American people so as to foster a personal appeal to baser human instincts.  Conservatives don’t want to engage in intelligent debates, they want to scare, they want to pressure-support through circumnavigation of the facts at hand, for they traditionally do not have the chops to engage in so elevated a debate.  Though they wear the hat of intelligent debaters, and put on a show that they walk above the mud, they usually do so on rickety stilts.  Dreyfuss pulled this smarmy maneuver off brilliantly, yet if we’re going to talk about the guy in the context of Republican bitchery, we have to get to…

5.) Tie: Josh Brolin as George W. Bush and Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney from W.

I didn’t much care for this film, or the ambivalent tone it maintained throughout, yet I’m not going to leave off two of the biggest monsters of the 21st century if there’s to be a discussion concerning unforgivable acts of Republicanism.  While Dreyfuss turned in another stone-cold, black-hearted performance with his portrayal of Cheney, I was actually a bit more impressed with Brolin.  As I said, I didn’t like this movie all that much, as it provided little in the way of a character arch for W., and refused to take a stand about the man’s Presidency one way or the other, yet I could find no fault in the performances.  J-Bro did his best to carve out a character from the desperately thin material at hand, and showcased a spoiled dummy in various stages of attempted maturity.  From imprisonment to a failed Congressional bid, the character of “W.” evolved from a shockingly stupid man-child to a slightly smarter and infinitely shrewder politician.

Though he never seemed to grasp the responsibilities inherent in this country’s highest office, nor did he ever seem to take them seriously, there was a sense that the man experienced some level of growth, if only into a twisted monster with absolutely no accountability for his actions.  This was a difficult thing to pull off considering the lack of breathing room for character development in the script, one which was obviously trying to hedge its bets in light of its release just prior to the 2008 election.  And that’s a shame.  Had Oliver Stone possessed the balls to take a stand about the piece of shit President rather than court an audience from both sides of the political spectrum, he might have reached the core of a very interesting, if offensively dangerous, Commander-in-Chief.  Instead, the movie relied on the well-established fact that Bush was led around by Rove and Cheney, and was sold on the concept of war in the Middle East as a way to bolster American influence and political credibility.  What a waste (of a Presidency, and a movie).

4.) Gene Hackman as “Sec. of Defense David Brice” from No Way Out

I’m giving this one something of a technical pass, as the film didn’t clearly state that Hackman was a Republican, yet being the Secretary of Defense during the Regan era and a proponent of cutting pork barrel spending put him on the right side of the aisle in everything but name.  Mean-Gene played “David Brice,” an administration official who was banging Sean Young’s character in the film; this chick, “Atwell,” was a lady who was herself carrying on an affair with a younger Navy Lieutenant Commander (Kevin Costner’s “Farrell”).  Black-hearted cunt-face that he was, Brice killed Atwell when he learned of the dalliance (even though he didn’t know the identity of the other guy), then proceeded to cover the whole thing up via a frame-job of the most convenient patsy he could lay hands upon.  To produce this scapegoat, Brice turned to Costner’s “Farrell” for help, as the young Naval officer had just been awarded hero-status via a courageous act, and was assigned to Brice’s department.  Brice tasked Farrell with finding Atwell’s ‘other man,’ and claimed that only once he had found the guy and his magic dick would the true killer come to justice.

The plot unfolded fantastically from here, for Farrell was put in a position where he had to lead an investigation that was aimed at revealing his role in the whole affair (pun TOTALLY intended).  By the end, Farrell was able to present evidence that proved Brice was Atwell’s lover, yet once again, Brice shifted the blame, and threw his most trusted friend and advisor (Will Patton’s “Pritchard”) right the hell under the bus, claiming that Pritchard was in love with Brice, and had been jealous of Atwell.  That son of a bitch!  Not only had Pritchard gone out on a limb to help Brice cover up a fucking murder, he had stood by the Secretary of Defense in the man’s darkest hour.  For this, he got the blame for a homicide, something which compelled him to munch down a bullet.  While the guy didn’t engineer a war for political ends, and was responsible for just two deaths instead of thousands, the stink of direct culpability was all over Hackman’s “Brice,” so I had to give him so dishonorable a ranking.

3.) Meryl Streep as “Senator Eleanor Prentiss Shaw” from The Manchurian Candidate

I’m not going to go as far as claiming that this movie was better than the original, but I’ll be buggered if it wasn’t really, really friggin’ close!  Streep, in all her majestic glory, really let herself off the chain in her role as “Sen. Shaw,” a woman with connections to a powerful brainwashing conglomerate that was angling to get her son the V.P. nomination during the upcoming election.  Liev Shreiber played her golden boy, “Congressman Ray Shaw,” a celebrated war-hero and up-and-coming political star as a result of a Medal of Honor and his mother’s ceaseless back-room fixing.  Ray had earned himself a name via some heroics during Desert Storm, having rescued a squad of guys which included Denzel Washington’s “Maj. Bennett Marco.”  Marco couldn’t quite get his head around what had happened during his rescue, and slowly started to realize that his memory had been scrambled as a result of a secret project helmed by the nefarious Senator E. Shaw.

Indeed, Streep’s character had been pretty busy.  She had not only wiped the memories of Denzel’s squad to make her son a hero, but was manipulating the political landscape to assure that her progeny was locked in as the V.P. candidate.  This was an important move considering her maneuver to use the mind-control program to assassinate the President on election night, something that would make her First-Mom.  Can you believe the balls on this bitch?  Not only was she screwing with the minds of honest, brave soldiers to meet her own ends, but she had machinations in place to kill the President.  Un-cool, lady: un-cool.  After Marco started getting a handle on the plot, he brought in a sympathetic Senator to help move things along, but that bitch went ahead and turned the knobs on her mind-control machine and had the poor bastard killed.  Republicans have a proud history of murderous infamy in cinema, however, propped up in no small part by a historical record that showcases many a sleaze which gave credence in reality to what so many on this list have demonstrated in film…

2.) Frank Langella as Richard Nixon from Frost/Nixon

As evil as Cheney and Bush were during their days in office, one has to bow in deference to the unquestioned 20th century standard.  It’s hard to imagine strong-arm Republican tactics and official, government-endorsed political intimidation without first calling back to the man who made it all so vogue during the last century.  Sure, Tammany Hall politics and corrupt influence in some of the highest seats of power were all well-established in this country prior to 1968, yet nobody made it work for them in so high a seat as Nixon and his pack of thieving “plumbers” did during that man’s unforgettable reign.  Though he had been playing fast and loose with the Constitution and Executive Privilege prior to 1974 (he ordered the termination of a special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, because the man refused to back Nixon’s play), it wasn’t until the Supreme Court got involved that the President realized all his angling had been used up.  The history of the Watergate cover-up is by now well known, and without admitting any true culpability, just “errors in judgment,” the first President to resign from office did so with smiles and victory signs beaming from the defeated.

But let’s be clear about this: the President of the United States orchestrated a cover-up to hide obvious acts of base hooliganism, and he got caught red-handed doing so.  People in the Chief Executive’s employ had been tampering with the election campaigns of their rivals (through more than just a break-in), and the head of the free world had taken an active role (if only through the knowledge of its existence) in covering that all up.  Nixon had lied repeatedly to investigators and Congress about the affair, and made overtures on several occasions to use his Executive influence as a tool to eliminate any prosecution of the evidence.  Though the film Frost/Nixon did take some liberties with the actual historical record of the interviews that took place in 1977, what can be said is that the disgraced President did reveal at long last that he did know what had been going on during the subsequent cover-up, and felt no qualms about his authority to engage in such practices.  Finally, years removed from the incident, the U.S. and the world at large got to see the true face of Republican politics, one that didn’t shy away from an ‘ends justify means’ mentality, one that saw (and sees) nothing wrong in trampling the edicts of the Constitution to defend their interpretation of it.

1.) Senator Joseph McCarthy as himself from Good Night, and Good Luck

I really appreciate that Clooney didn’t haul in an actor to portray McCarthy in Good Night, and Good Luck, as the footage of the actual man spoke more about the oppression and fear the politician disseminated than any representation could possibly convey.  If this were an actor talking about a “secret” list of communists in the Army and State Department, it would have likely come off as a phony conspiratorial yarn, one which couldn’t possibly be true in a United States with television to reveal the face of unembarrassed evil and hate.  In the early 1950s, it wasn’t enough for an American to be an honest, conscientious citizen wholly in love with the Constitution and an earnest love of the country.  No, to be safe in your business and personal standing within your community, you had to be wholly supportive of tactics and dogma espoused by a Junior Senator from Wisconsin, for if you were not, you risked everything.  In 1950, with the Tydings Committee hearings, McCarthy started his campaign against those he deemed communists or sympathizers thereof in earnest.  When Democrats charged McCarthy with fear-mongering, and pressured the jerk-ass for some kind of evidence to base his claims, shit heated up, however.

What little he presented (and it was frightfully limited) was grounded in second-hand accusations and hearsay, yet the Republicans banded together to nullify Democrat votes, and a reign of terror endured.  McCarthy kept “exposing” those he felt were communists, and used accusations of jealous business rivals and assholes with axes to grind to keep his campaign of fear afloat.  Politically, anybody who stood in McCarthy’s way was in danger, and during reelection bids in 1952, McCarthy heavily influenced the outcomes of several Republicans who used the Wisconsin Senator’s accusations of communist-sympathizing to tear down opponents.  These Democrats’ only crime was that they challenged McCarthy and Republican candidates (many of those careers slandered in so base a manner never recovered), and for this, they suffered terribly.  It was in this volatile arena that Edward R. Murrow entered, a journalist and broadcaster with an iron-clad reputation within the industry.  Murrow risked throwing that away when he dared to stand up for a country held hostage by a power-hungry Republican who was using fear as a lever to wedge influence from a system designed to keep fear-politics at bay.

Because of the work Murrow did to turn public opinion against McCarthy and the 1953 hearings, the tide that had already begun to turn against the Senator transformed into a veritable tidal wave, and those in the government who had only quietly been whispering against the man turned their muffled-voices into shouts.  People that had been accused of communist sympathy merely for checking out a particular book were at last vindicated by a country quickly growing tired of watching their best friends and colleagues drummed out of public life for exercising the basic freedoms inherent to this land.  It got bad when McCarthy (a Catholic) appointed a guy who claimed that Protestant clergy was hiding a healthy crop of communists.  It got really bad when McCarthy started investigating the goddamned Army, a move from which he never recovered, due in large part to the efforts of Murrow and his television staff.  After McCarthy tried the old trick of turning accusations against his accuser (in this case, the American institution that was Edward R. Murrow), it all came apart.  The Senator had held a country and its Constitutionally-protected opinions hostage for the better part of three years, but a journalist with unapproachable integrity took the whole thing down using nothing but courage, and a reputation that was beyond reproach.  Unfortunately for Republicans, they possessed little of either asset, and thus found sparse ground upon which to fight back.

by Warren Cantrell

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