Film Review: Swing Vote

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

With pretty much the entire press having gone gaga for US presidential hopeful Barack Obama during his European tour back at the end of July, it’s unlikely that many people will be unaware that there’s another one of those American election things coming up pretty soon – November, to be precise. There’s also a good chance that most of us will remember how close the race was back in 2004, when a Democratic candidate polled more votes than any previous winner in a presidential election, yet still lost out to incumbent Republican George W Bush.

These last four years have been a bitter time for American Democratic party supporters – not just the deterioration of the economy under Bush from a $230 billion budget surplus in President Clinton’s last year in office to an expected $400 billion budget deficit this year, nor the tax cuts that have seen the rich get richer while the poor remain without health insurance, nor the decision to invade Iraq at the cost of thousands of lives. Nope, they’re bitter more than anything because they know that, back at the 2000 presidential election, George W Bush polled fewer votes than his rival Democrat, Al Gore, yet still walked away with the keys to the White House – and somehow still didn’t get his comeuppance four years later.

So you might think that this film, based as it is around a US presidential election where a
Democrat (Dennis Hopper) is trying to unseat an incumbent Republican (Kelsey Grammar) is a knowing reminder of the events of 2004, intended to stop American voters making the same mistakes again. Well, you’d only be half right. Because although this is certainly a political satire, and while it certainly revolves around a presidential election, the satire is not aimed at the politicians and their policies, but the American people.

“Fine,” you may be thinking, “but I’m not American, so why should I care?” Well, the thing is that this particular satire would work far more effectively if it was set in the UK than the US. Because the premise is that the entire election will come down to the vote of just one man – regular guy Bud (Kevin Costner), a man utterly uninterested in politics. In the US, although back in 2000 the state of Florida went to Bush on the strength of just a few dozen votes, the country is currently so entrenched that such single vote deciders are practically impossible. But in the UK, thanks largely to an electoral system designed for a two party system, in part to outdated constituency boundaries, single vote deciders are all too possible. True, a general election hasn’t come down to just one vote yet, but our first past the post system means that it’s all too possible.

But enough of the politics – as with any satire the real question is “is it entertaining?”

Well, it’s certainly got enough to merit giving it a go – with Costner, who co-financed the film himself so much did he believe in it, on the best form he’s shown in years. It’s not just one for politics geeks, certainly. But, at the same time, it can hardly compete with the big blockbusters that are out there at the moment, and can’t be counted one of the classic political movies by any stretch. It is, however, an interesting idea well delivered, and deserves more attention than it is likely to receive, not least for the central message that if you live in a democracy, your vote is vital – something all too often forgotten these days.
Film Review: Swing Vote