It’s election year and US President Andrew Shepherd (Douglas), a widowed single-father with a comfortable approval rate among the voters, is preparing to pass a crucial crime bill. After determined lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Bening) approaches Andrew’s team (Sheen, Fox, Paymer) about pushing an environmental bill which may clash, he asks her out and a romance soon blossoms. Seeing this as a weakness, rival Bob Rumson (Dreyfuss) uses their relationship to discredit the President’s reputation and decides to run for himself…
Though Rob Reiner’s The American President is a decent romantic drama in its own right, it remains most notable today as something of a dress rehearsal for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s acclaimed political drama The West Wing. With Sorkin involved, the script boasts all the recognisably smart wordplay and clever exchanges you might expect, whilst there’s also an idealised government with a liberal agenda, some familiar faces (the most obvious being Martin Sheen, although he’s not playing the President here) and even a few of the same sets. Accordingly, we also occasionally veer into trite territory and the climax involves a big rousing speech, but it’s all very charming and intelligent.
Reiner’s buddy Richard Dreyfuss is surprisingly one-note as the ‘villain’ (especially for a character that talks about character), but Michael Douglas makes for a credible leader of the free world (even when sharing the screen with Sheen, a man most of us think of as the President). Annette Benning is typically terrific playing opposite him, while Michael J Fox is a stand-out, if slightly underused, as the uptight spin doctor.
Though Rob Reiner’s The American President is a decent romantic drama in its own right, it remains most notable today as something of a dress rehearsal for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s acclaimed political drama The West Wing. It’s trite at times, but the writing and cast are both top drawer.