The Second Civil War

Year: 1997
Studio: HBO
Director: Joe Dante
Producer: Barry Levinson
Writer: Martyn Burke
Cast: Beau Bridges, Joanna Cassidy, Phil Hartman, Elizabeth Péna, Dan Hedaya, Ron Perlman, James Earl Jones, Kevin Dunn, Dick Miller, Joanna Cassidy, Denis Leary, Kevin McCarthy, James Coburn, Roger Corman

I don't remember what prompted me to want to see this film, but I wasn't disappointed. It's one of the most underrated satires on American policy and cultural life there is.

Wag the Dog, a close cousin to this film) and I gather there was some scandal after original studio HBO commissioned and then quietly dropped the film.

A dream cast tells the story of a planeload of Pakistani orphans an NGO is determined to bring to Idaho for a better life before the apparently racist governor (Bridges) closes the states borders and slowly loses his mind, the ramifications reverberating around the halls of power from the White House to the TV news networks.

But it's the details that make the film, everything from the cutting insight by news producer Dan Hedaya ('Do we still have a White House or has Tokyo foreclosed?') to the cleverly subversive idea of how not even political crises can interrupt TV schedules, attacks on the ridiculous march of political correctness like the LA mayor giving an important speech completely in Spanish and the tough talking but clueless President (Hartman).

As the situation spins out of control and a political public relations guru (Coburn) stage manages talk of Idaho seceding from the Union, the news spins the crisis as the second civil war, both creating and reporting the news as it happens. Flipping between the halls of power in both camps, the movie juggles a ton of great characters and priceless dialogue that occasionally gives way to genuine shock and sadness.

If you like your satire merciless and you share the collective mirth most of the world has for America's misguided belief in its own untarnished core (even if you're American yourself), it's essential viewing.

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