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American President, The
Release Date(s)1995 (September 25, 2012)
Studio(s)Castle Rock/Universal (Warner Bros.)
The American President tells the story of Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) who, as the title suggests, is the Chief Executive of the United States. He cares deeply about his country, takes his oath to protect the Constitution seriously and feels a heavy burden when forced to order his military into action. He’s also a widower, who privately knows that he may have gotten elected on a sympathy vote, and he’s struggling to raise a daughter as a single parent while managing the duties of one of the toughest jobs in the world. Despite all this, Shepherd is doing well and his public approval is at an all-time high. Enter Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), a hired gun for the environmental lobby who, while in her first meeting at the White House, inadvertently lets Shepherd have it for his Administration’s lackluster environmental efforts. Naturally, the President falls for her. After he awkwardly invites her to be his date at a big state dinner, Sydney begins to return his feelings. But Shepherd soon learns that, when you’re the President, even your private life is up for public inspection. The 24-hour news networks go on “Sydney Watch”, his approval ratings plummet and just about everyone tries to use his new relationship with “the First Mistress” to their advantage, including a power-hungry Senator from the opposite party (played with some relish by Richard Dreyfuss) with his eyes on the Oval Office.
The American President has an almost Capra-esque feel to it, and that’s no accident. Despite the fact that he’s President, Shepherd is painted as an underdog. You grow to sympathize with him as the story unfolds. You want this guy to get the girl in the end. And the girl is charming as can be. Douglas and Bening have great chemistry, so their romance works well on-screen. The film boasts a terrific supporting cast, with fine performances by the likes of Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, David Paymer and Anna Deavre Smith, as over-worked and under-paid White House aides who support their President because they believe in him. They provide much of the film’s humor as they react to Shepherd’s attempt to woo Sydney from the Oval Office and cope with the day to day demands of their jobs. (At one point Fox turns to Paymer and asks, “It’s Christmas?” The reply: “Yeah, didn’t you get the memo?”) This is a story that could easily get corny, but it’s quite deftly crafted. The film was written by with typical idealistic flair by Aaron Sorkin (who – it shouldn’t surprise you – would later go on to create TV’s The West Wing) and it was directed by Rob Reiner, whose previous teaming with Sorkin resulted in a classic – A Few Good Men.
Warner’s new Blu-ray release is a nice upgrade of their lackluster 1999 DVD release, if only for the disc’s improved video and audio quality. This is by no means a reference disc, but the image reproduces the theatrical experience well. Detail is good overall, with a few occasionally too soft looking shots. Light grain is visible throughout the film. There’s a bit of digital processing apparent, though it’s seldom distracting. Colors are good if somewhat uneven – the blues of Sydney’s dress at the state dinner really pop off the screen for example but other colors are occasionally desaturated. The disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is presented in 5.1, but while it’s a marginal upgrade of the DVD’s audio experience, you’re still not going to get a lot of surround play. Most of the rear channel use is just acoustic fill with music, and its light on that. The soundfield has a strong bias to the front hemisphere. Still, the dialogue is clear and audible. If the mix is underwhelming, it’s certainly sufficient for the task at hand. The only extra included here is the same one that was on the DVD – a theatrical trailer in letterboxed widescreen and standard definition. It’s a good trailer, but it would have been nice to have it in HD.
In the years since this film’s theatrical debut, political opinions in America have gotten ever more polarized. As a result, some viewers will surely dismiss this film for its “liberal” bent. But if you can set aside politics (difficult I know), The American President remains what it’s always been – an old-fashioned romantic dramedy and a good one at that. Hollywood doesn’t make too many of them anymore. The disc is budget-rate, but honestly it’s just nice to have this film on Blu-ray at all. Thankfully, the disc is priced accordingly. Recommended for fans of the film.