As the national capital of the United States, it’s no wonder Washington D.C. has been the backdrop for many films. It’s obvious that political thrillers would use Washington D.C. as their setting, considering the vast amount of politics that occurs in this city. However, there are plenty of other films that have capitalized on the notoriety of the nation’s capital. Whether it’s the historical adventure of National Treasure (2004), a sequel for America’s superhero with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), or the Die Hard (1988) reimagining of Olympus Has Fallen (2013) (not to mention the Die Hard sequel, Live Free or Die Hard (2007)), Washington D.C. has plenty to offer as a set piece. Heck, even sci-fi films like Independence Day (1996) have used it as a site for emphasizing alien dominance over humans. This week’s two films have Washington D.C. as their central setting.
Thank You for Smoking
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours
To get anything done in Washington D.C., you have to be part of the government. Even being a senator or representative isn’t a foregone conclusion either, as we saw in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). While pushing a political agenda might be difficult, there are ways to do it. Some might consider the “sleeper agent” tactics of The Manchurian Candidate (1962) to be preferable to the alternative: lobbying. Money talks, and when money is put in all the right places, all the right people start to push a particular agenda. In the end, the political machine is more like a business than a government, as money can influence the people in charge of the government to do the bidding of the wealthy. If money were removed from the equation, then maybe we might have a fair and unbiased group of representatives. Who knows when that will happen, though?
If there’s anything lobbyists are good at, it’s spinning the truth to fit their agenda. Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) has been talking his way around the fact that smoking kills by using studies funded by Big Tobacco to disprove this correlation. Even with his silver tongue attempting to convince consumers that smoking is safe, fewer people are smoking. Nick figures a few big-budget Hollywood films might be the shot in the arm cigarette sales need, but soon he has to defend against a bill being brought to the Senate that would put a skull and crossbones on packages of cigarettes. After Nick is abducted by his opponents and given a lethal dose of nicotine via nicotine patches, he still doesn’t change his mind or his message. Nick defends the public’s right to choose, even if the choice isn’t healthy. His years of smoking cigarettes saved him, but now that he’s unable to smoke ever again, he decides to start his own firm.
All the President’s Men
Length: 138 minutes / 2.30 hours
The people who run the government from Washington D.C. can often be the most interesting topics of biographies. Individuals with as much power as a president certainly have stories to tell. Movies like JFK (1991) and W. (2008) look into these administrations and create an entertaining narrative from the events of their presidencies. Of course, there are others in Washington D.C. with plenty of power as well. FBI directors like J. Edgar Hoover (in J. Edgar (2011)) or FBI agents like Robert Hanssen (in Breach (2007)) have secrets to keep, and their stories are more interesting when these secrets are revealed. This can even be done to comedic effect, like in Burn After Reading (2008). When the government is out of control, though, the people need to know. That’s why films like The Post (2017) and All the President’s Men (1976) are important: they show us how the media should be keeping the government honest.
Shortly after The Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers, two reporters, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) are tasked to report on the Democratic National Committee break-in at the Watergate complex. As they begin to unravel the story, it soon becomes apparent how scandalous the implications are. Unfortunately, with no reliable sources, the two reporters cannot confirm anything. When Woodward uses his anonymous source, “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook), he is encouraged to “follow the money.” Digging deeper, the reporters find the conspiracy entangles much of the current administration, including the president. While the two round out their sources, the White House issues an evasive denial of allegations, which means The Post could be in trouble if their story is proved false. Confident in their information, the reporters write the article, and the rest is history.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 different takes on Washington D.C.