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Man of the Year

Year: 2007
Studio: Universal
Director: Barry Levinson
Producer: Barry Levinson
Writer: Barry Levinson
Cast: Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Laura Linney, Lewis Black, Jeff Goldblum, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler
Barry Levinson's last political satire Wag the Dog was brilliant because like any good politician it stayed on-message. It used a lean story arc and all its characters to make a statement about insider political fixing in the wake of a scandal, not pretending to be more than it was.

He wanted at least in part to make a similar statement with Man of the Year, that of the phenomenon of popularity and its relationship to political power. But either the idea ran out of steam and didn't have enough meat to fill a 90 minute film or he decided to give it some subplots that could shoehorn in Hollywood thrills.

The latter probably isn't that cut and dried - it's just that the conspiracy thriller subplot was the most convenient way to make a parallel statement about the apparent corruption of outsourcing electoral process technology to the market.

The result is a bit of a mishmash of styles and moods that don't combine as comfortably as they should and result in a less effective movie.

Each element - the voting machines that don't work and the whistleblower that wants to unearth the truth (Linney), and Williams as the former political satirist turned president-elect - work ironically well on their own. Williams is surrounded by senior talent that gives Man of the Year very high credibility, but the blended stories approach dilutes the sort of satirical power Wag the Dog captured so well.

When a viewer of his Jon Stewart-style comedy talk show suggests he run for the presidency, TV comic Tom Dobbs (Williams) for some reason that's never explained decides to do so, riding the crest of his irreverent popularity all he way to the White House, assisted by his senior minders Christopher Walken and Lewis Black.

That's where the comedy and satire both co-exist, Dobbs giving many very funny broadsides about the state of modern politics. Linney goes on the lam after unearthing the glitch in the voting system that incorrectly sent Dobbs to the White House, and she has to enlist his help to save her life and expose the truth.

Then Levinson both undoes and crystallises his own argument. After both he and the character of Dobbs convince us all the White House needs someone free of the sort of entrenched interests that subvert the democratic process in modern times, Dobbs is the only one who believes Eleanor (Linney) and steps down. The voting machines got it wrong, and Dobbs' opponent was the real winner. The people's mandate must be followed, the film is saying, even if they pick someone who's clearly the wrong guy.

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