This fine film has an outstanding cast. Richard Gere stars as the nation’s #1 packager of politicians. He can make anyone look good enough to the voters no matter how inept they may be in reality. His assistant is played by Kate Capshaw who is also his lover. His ex-wife is played by Julie Christie, a newspaper reporter. Gene Hackman is his former partner who still has scruples about which candidate he will help get elected. Gere has no such scruples and is a hired gun willing to help get anyone elected so long as they have the money to pay his big fees. Denzel Washington plays the PR man for powerful oil sheiks who want to control energy policies world wide to protect their self-interests. E.G. Marshall plays a client of Gere’s, but one who is a very decent human being, a U.S. Senator, who is pushing wind power development---something the oil sheiks are definitely against.
The movie opens with Gere following on his ear phones a powerful Gene Krupa big band number and he is following along on a drum pad with his own drum sticks as he flies on his private jet to his next client. That client is running for President in a Latin American country. Gere is in the audience with his camera crew when an explosion kills one of the spectators. Gere films the candidate holding the man and getting his shirt all bloody. He sees this not in terms of a tragedy but in terms of an opportunity to help his client win the election. Everything is seen in these terms to the Gere character Pete St. John.
His motto is: “My job is to get you in. Once you are there you do whatever your conscious tells you to do.” What he really does is manipulate the voters using every technique in the book. He has an assistant, who is a conservative Jew in a wheel chair, that does all the number crunching to see what the voters would like to hear and then he has his client become that person temporarily---only long enough to get elected.
(Why a conservative Jew in a wheelchair? Hmmm….interesting question. You can make a variety of guesses why. My assumption is that they want you to know that this is not just a Christian or Jewish or Arab conspiracy---everyone is involved regardless of religious persuasion. Remember, they have given Pete a clearly Christian name.)
Towards the end of the movie, Pete is being bugged, his plane sabotaged, key documents shredded, and he is almost run off the road---all the work of Denzel who is trying to tell him that powerful oil money doesn’t want him to do anything stupid like fail to get their candidate elected. For them it is not the game that it is for Pete. He is having a ball being the #1 string puller. The oil interests don’t like just anyone getting elected. They have hired him to get one of their people elected and they are concerned that he is nosing around and talking to some of the wrong people like his ex-wife newspaper reporter. Christie is investigating why the Senator dropped out of the race.
Pete finds out that the reason his old friend the Senator is not running for reelection is because Denzel got his wife deliberately involved in a money making scheme that imploded---deliberately so---having her end up owing a lot of money. Denzel then tries to push the Senator to kill his wind generating bill and the Senator refuses by choosing not to run again for office. This opens the race to the oil interests who then hired Pete.
Lots of intrigue going on. That is one of the things that gets you involved in the movie trying to figure out what is going to happen next. However, that is not what the director is really up to. The director is Sidney Lumet. He also was the director of Network and The Verdict. (Be sure to watch these two great films.) These earlier films attacked the media, the court system, and the medical system. He is now attacking the political system. Lumet wants you to question why you vote for a particular candidate. To accomplish this he takes you backstage and shows you how they are packaged. He hopes that this will make you think twice before you cast your next vote.
By the end of the film Pete is having a crisis of conscience. You see him flying on his private jet, but this time he is only holding the drum sticks, not listening and going along with the exciting jazz drumming that he has been doing on the plane and in his hotel rooms in the earlier scenes. This is no longer the exciting adventure it was earlier on.
He goes to the candidate that Hackman is managing---who is running against Pete’s oil backed candidate. A person who really wants to make the country a better place for all of us. He encourages him not to become a phony packaged candidate but to really let the voters know where he stands on the issues. After all, he is not going to get elected no matter what he says. The young man takes his advice. Pete no longer is working for the oil folks. He sees his assistant is---Kate Capshaw was a mole reporting to them all along and assisting them in their bugging efforts. In short, this is a crummy money-driven profession.
At the end of the movie you see Gere watching the election returns with Julie and you see that they are going to get back together. Gere loses some of the races he managed, but not all of them. The young man did not get elected; however, he did better than anyone expected and now he has overnight become a candidate that people are paying attention to.
It all has a Hollywood ending. Gere has learned and grown and become a good person in the end. At least some up-and-coming politicians are going to help us make this country a better place with honest efforts.
But the ending is really tacked on. The movie is really a primer for you on how dirty politics really is and how you need to be on your guard and not let people lead you around by the nose. Start thinking! Be aware!