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Swing Vote
3 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Joshua Michael Stern

Written By:
Jason Richman, Joshua Michael Stern

Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci, George Lopez, Judge Reinhold, Charles Esten, Richard Petty, Willie Nelson, Mare Winningham, Mark Moses, Molly Johnson

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Swing Vote (2008)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
August 4th, 2008

'Swing Vote' has an absurd premise, but once you accept it, the movie actually becomes charming. Kevin Costner is Bud Johnson, an alcoholic factory worker in New Mexico. He lives with his daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll), and loves her dearly, even though she has essentially raised herself, and also looks after him, making sure he gets up every morning, eats properly, and, most importantly, heads to the polls to vote in the upcoming presidential election. When he refuses, she fills out a ballot for him, but is unable to complete it, and once all the other votes are counted, it turns out that Bud's missing vote is what will decide the winner. Yes, a whole election hinges on a single vote, but I told you that the plot was absurd. Absurd and impossible. A media frenzy descends upon Bud's small town, he is interviewed extensively, and is courted by both candidates; incumbent Republican Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammar) and Democratic opponent Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper). These men are unscrupulous liars, willing to do anything to score a political victory.

Slightly more ethical are their respective campaign managers, Art Crumb (Nathan Lane) and Martin Fox (Stanley Tucci). Boone is obviously intended to represent George W. Bush, but exists in an alternate reality where there is no war in Iraq, and there is no widespread animosity towards him or his administration. Neither he nor Greenleaf has a discernible values systems, are shifty when it comes to their personal beliefs on controversial topics like abortion and homosexuality, and they makes promises to Bud that they undoubtedly would forget about once in office. Paula Patton is Kate Madison, the journalist who initially intends to exploit Bud and Molly for professional gain, but is compelled by conscience to change her mind and befriend them. This is an example of restrained, soft-hitting satire, compared to something like Bulworth or Wag the Dog. It never picks a side, nor does it ever explore its central themes with any real verve or venom.

On the one hand, you have ruthless news reporters who will stoop to any level to cover a big story and advance their careers. You have politicians who say whatever they think people want to hear, to boost their popularity, instead of being honest with themselves and voters about what they really stand for. And you have an examination of working-class America, and how people like Bud have no real interest in the electoral process, maybe because they feel disillusioned, disenfranchised, as if they do not have a voice, and that no one cares about the issues that are important to them, and affect their daily lives. Costner is terrific as Bud, a mess of a man who is held together by Molly, played brilliantly by Carroll.

She gives the film's best performance. She is confident, charismatic, and smart, and her relationship with Bud is complicated, in some ways their roles are often reversed, and she acts more like a parent than he does. It is Molly who inspires Bud to take responsibility for the mistakes he has made, and he is certainly a better influence on her than her estranged mother, Larissa (Mare Winningham), a hopeless drug addict. There was little reason to introduce Larissa at all, but Winningham does what she can with the mostly superfluous character. Lane and Tucci are great. I thought Hopper was an odd choice for the part of Greenleaf, but Grammar is a comfortable fit for Boone, and looks like a person one could feasibly accept as president.

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