"Tell your friend POTUS he's got a funny name."
"I would, but he's not my friend, he's my boss; and it's not his name, it's his title."
"President of the United States."
--The West Wing, Pilot
How can you not like a show that begins with that conversation? Granted, Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) was getting out of bed with a stoned call girl, he didn't know she was a call girl, and the reason for a page from POTUS was because the President (Martin Sheen) had wrecked his bicycle into a tree, but it can't be all serious.
Over the weekend I rented First Daughter with Katie Holmes. I had actually rented The Upside of Anger with Kevin Costner, but at Video Stop you get a free older DVD when you rent a new release. Anyway, I had a really hard time taking Michael Keaton as the President of the United States seriously. I couldn't get past the fact that in my head Keaton is/was Batman. I expected to see him in his tight superhero attire, not a suit and tie.
As I contemplated the men (and some women) who have played POTUS onscreen, I wondered how many pull it off and can be taken seriously. On television today was Independence Day. Bill Pullman does a convincing job of playing the president during his Independence Day speech, but aliens? Come on. He could do better.
Along with Bill Pullman, the men who have played POTUS and have done a terrible job (I realize the roles weren't written for serious drama, but mostly comedies) include: Every POTUS in My Fellow Americans (Jack Lemmon, James Garner, and Dan Akroyd...though in a serious role I think Garner would be great), Jack Nicholson (Mars Attacks!), Michael Belson (Wag the Dog), and Tim Robbins (in one of the Austin Powers movies). These I would consider complete failures, mostly because of the script.
There are a few, I don't know what category to put in. Morgan Freeman played POTUS in Deep Impact, but his role was limited. I love Morgan, so I'm biased. Harrison Ford played POTUS in Air Force One. This was too much a role written for Ford--Indiana Jones meets American Government 101. Bad idea. I really liked Gene Hackman in Absolute Power, but that may have been a stretch in creative writing...given another role, maybe he would make a great POTUS, but then again this is Lex Luther, how do we get past that?
Okay, there are way too many to name in one post, but my favorites are Martin Sheen, Sam Waterston, Michael Douglas, Bruce Greenwood, and Jon Voight. Martin Sheen played Kennedy, a role I'm highly critical of, and pulled it off successfully and he currently plays a very convincing Jed Bartlett on The West Wing. Sam Waterston is not only a Lincoln historian/buff, he plays an remarkably believable Lincoln on mini-series. You wouldn't know it wasn't Lincoln and most of Lincoln's own words are engraved in the memory of Waterston. I really like Kevin Kline in Dave, but his match in a drama is definitely Michael Douglas in The American President. Douglas is convincing and equally matched in performance by Annette Benning and again, Martin Sheen. The American President is probably my favorite film with POTUS...
Okay, not quite, Thirteen Days is my favorite. You've gotta love Kevin Costner, he makes great baseball flicks and Kennedy films. What more can you ask for? Bruce Greenwood plays Kennedy in the film and at times you need a double take to realize it isn't Jack Kennedy on the screen. At the end of the film, Jack, Bobby, and Kenny O'Donnell are walking back in the White House after the crisis (thirteen days refers to the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of '62) and the silhouette of Greenwood is unbelievable. I used to rent this one so much that Albertson's finally gave it to me. I've now upgraded to DVD and watch it every few months.
Last, but certainly not least is Jon Voight in Pearl Harbor. He is FDR. If there is anything in that movie I like it is his performance. I feel about Pearl Harbor as I do about Titanic, the love story is great, but once the tragedy begins, I can't stand it anymore. Voight is amazing and actually represents the fragility of FDR in his wheelchair-bound state. (I should also give an honorable mention to Gary Sinese as Truman and Anthony Hopkins as Nixon and I can't leave out Jason Robards who has played POTUS the most.)
Realizing that The West Wing may be nearing an end, I predict that the new Geena Davis show Commander-in-Chief will not shine as women have not done very well in the roll of POTUS and will not be capable of replacing The West Wing, which in it's seventh season will see the election of a new POTUS. No one can match the performance of Martin Sheen as Jed Bartlett, but of Jimmy Smits (as Matt Santos) and Alan Alda (as Arnold Vinick), Alda would make a better POTUS. But...if Leo McGarry (John Spencer) can be the vice-president, I'd vote for Santos.
Yes, I'm a nerd.