The American President is a 1995 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Rob Reiner and written by Aaron Sorkin, starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox & Richard Dreyfuss.
Plot[edit | edit source]
|Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
Popular Democratic President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is preparing to run for re-election. The President and his staff, led by Chief of Staff and best friend A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen), attempt to consolidate the administration's 63% approval rating by passing a moderate crime control bill.
However, support for the bill in both parties is tepid: conservatives do not want it, and liberals think it is too weak. If it passes, however, Shepherd's re-election is presumed by his staff to be a shoo-in, and Shepherd resolves to announce the bill, and the Congressional support to pass it, by the State of the Union.
With the President of France about to arrive in the United States to attend a state dinner in his honor, Shepherd—widowed when his wife died of cancer three years earlier—is placed in an awkward predicament when his cousin Judith, with whom he had planned to attend the dinner, gets sick.
The President's attention soon focuses on Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), just hired by an environmental lobbying firm to persuade the President to pass legislation committing his Administration to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
During their first meeting, Shepherd and Wade are immediately intrigued by each other. At this meeting, Shepherd strikes a deal with Wade: if she can secure 24 votes for the environmental bill by the date of the State of the Union, he will deliver the last 10 votes.
Whatever his personal feelings toward Wade, he expresses this to his staff, especially the pragmatic A.J., as a sound political move. He believes Wade will not be able to get enough votes to meet her side of the deal, thus releasing Shepherd from responsibility if the bill fails to pass.
Later that evening, in a series of phone calls, Shepherd invites Wade to the state dinner. During the State dinner and subsequent occasions, the couple fall in love. When the Republican presidential hopeful Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) learns "the President's got a girlfriend," he steps up his attacks on Shepherd and Wade, focusing on Wade's activist past and maligning Shepherd's ethics and his family values. The President refuses to respond to these attacks, which drives his approval ratings lower and costs him crucial political support, without which his crime bill seems doomed to failure.
At the White House Christmas Party, Wade is dejected about her meeting that day with three Congressmen from Michigan about the environmental bill and how it was a dismal failure; in the process, she inadvertently mentions to the President and A.J. that the Congressmen in question said the only bill they were more interested in defeating than the President's crime bill was Wade's environmental bill.
Shepherd and A.J. are conflicted by this information as Wade clearly had no idea of the implications of this casual conversation, much less that they might actually use this information in their favor and against her environmental bill.
Eventually, Wade does manage to get enough votes to meet her part of the deal. However, in the meantime, Shepherd's team discovers he is exactly three votes short with no other apparent options to acquire them except by shelving the environmental bill thus solidifying the support of the three Congressmen from Michigan—which he agrees to do. This results in disaster for Wade as she is immediately fired from her lobbyist job for failing to achieve her objectives, as well as seemingly jeopardizing her political reputation.
She visits the White House to break up with Shepherd and says that she has a job possibility in Hartford, Connecticut. He tells her politics is making choices, his number-one has always been the crime control bill, and that he does not want to lose her over this. She congratulates him on getting the leverage to pass a crime bill that in no way will help fight crime. She concludes, "Mr. President, you have bigger problems than losing me—you've just lost my vote."
On the morning that he is to deliver his State of the Union Address and after an argument with A.J., Shepherd makes a surprise appearance in the White House press room and rebuts Rumson's attacks on Wade's past and his own values and character.
He declares he will send the controversial environmental bill to Congress with a massive 20% cut in fossil fuels—far more than the 10% originally envisioned—and that he is withdrawing his support for the weak crime bill, promising to write a stronger one in due time.
In his speech, Shepherd even promises gun control, in an attempt at root-and-branch solving of America's problems. His passionate and erudite defense of those things in which he believes, in contrast to his earlier passive behavior, galvanizes the press and his staff.
Shepherd declares he is "going over to her house and I'm not leaving until I get her back," but Wade enters the Oval Office before he can leave.
The couple are reconciled and the President, accompanied by Wade, leaves to give his State of the Union Address. The movie ends with Shepherd entering the House chamber to thunderous applause.
Cast[edit | edit source]
- Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd
- Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade
- Martin Sheen as A.J. MacInerney, White House Chief of Staff
- Michael J. Fox as Lewis Rothschild, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy
- Anna Deavere Smith as Robin McCall, White House Press Secretary
- Samantha Mathis as Jane Basdin, Personal Aide to the President
- Shawna Waldron as Lucy Shepherd, the president's daughter
- David Paymer as Leon Kodak, White House Deputy Chief of Staff
- Anne Haney as Mrs. Chapil, Secretary to the President of the United States
- Richard Dreyfuss as Senator Bob Rumson (R-KS)
- Nina Siemaszko as Beth Wade, Sydney's sister
- Wendie Malick as Susan Sloan
- Beau Billingslea as Special Agent Cooper, United States Secret Service
- Gail Strickland as Esther MacInerney
- Joshua Malina as David
- John Mahoney as Leo Solomon
- Taylor Nichols as Stu
Production[edit | edit source]
Originally, actor Robert Redford approached a number of screenwriters with the single-line premise, "the president elopes." Sorkin (on the basis of his treatment) was selected by Redford to write the screenplay with the expectation that Redford would star. When Reiner was brought aboard to direct, however, Redford dropped out.
At the time, his publicist attributed Redford's decision to his desire "to do a love story, but (Reiner) wanted to do something that was ultimately about politics." Other sources suggested that Redford and Reiner "didn't get along,...It was a personality thing."
The filming dates for "The American President" took place on January 17, 1995 and ended on April 19, 1995.
An extensive White House set (of both the East and West Wings) was built on the Castle Rock Entertainment lot in Culver City. The set's Oval Office was later reused for the films Nixon and Independence Day.
Box Office[edit | edit source]
Upon its theatrical release, "The American President" proved to be successful at the box office with a worldwide gross of $108 million on a budget of $62 million.
In the years following its release, it has remained a favorite on cable television and home video.
Critical Reception[edit | edit source]
"The American President" was a critical success & received praise and "Two Thumbs Up" from Siskel & Ebert who were surprised by how good the film was considering Rob Reiner's previous film North was both of their selections for the worst movie of the year.
Ebert said after detesting North he was very happy and pleased to give Reiner's next film an unanimously positive review.
Siskel praised Douglas and Bening for their performances; he did, however, disapprove of Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins' decision to cast Douglas and Sheen in the same film and especially in similar roles within that film, expressing the worry that the similarity between the two actors' appearances would lead audiences to confuse their respective characters.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, 90% of critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 7/10.
In Edward Guthmann (from the San Francisco Chronicle)'s review, he said, "Although the movie, directed by Rob Reiner and written by Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men"), focuses largely on that romance, and on Douglas' efforts to date Bening -- dodging advisers, the press and public opinion -- the movie's real juice comes toward the end when Douglas rips off his gloves at a news conference and blasts the smug, Gingrich-like chal lenger (Richard Dreyfuss) who opposes him for re-election."
Desson Howe from the Washington Post described the film as "wittily scripted, engagingly sappy, completely implausible and unabashedly Capraesque."