What follows is a slightly edited email response I sent I had earlier today to a friend of mine, a lawyer who is familiar with and knows many of the real-life characters who were portrayed in last night’s superb HBO docudrama, Recount:
On Mon, May 26, 2008 at 4:57 PM, [DK] wrote:
I watched “Recount” on HBO last night. If you missed it, you should try to catch it—I’m sure they’ll rebroadcast it a lot over the next couple of weeks. It was quite good as a movie, very entertaining. But it was full of errors, emphasized the minor, skipped the major and painted in black and white, etc.–all with a transparently biased screenplay. There is a clip of Fred (the real Fred, not an actor) during a scene where Spacy and Leary are having a drink in a bar.
ME: I too was struck by the tilt (albeit hardly so strong as to make for a “transparently biased screenplay”) if for no other reason than I thought I had read that the script was vetted by both sides. A search of the weekend’s newspapers and online, however, indicates that what I must have read too hurriedly was that various outside “independent” sources and “some of the principals” were asked to advise on matters.
[DK]: In the protest scenes, the Ds are all orderly clean-cut people and the Rs are all surly belligerent red-necks. (In the Karl Rove version, the Ds will be bearded pot-smoking hippies.)
ME: I think the public record at the time and reports from various sources since shows the the “white collar riot” which shut down the ballot counting, said rioters consisting in large part of GOP Congressional aides flown in to do the deed is exactly what the the film depicted. There are photos of that crowd trying to storm the doors with identified GOP personnel who were not Florida voters and, on records later checked,in town only long enough to “protest” and then get back to DC.
[DK]: It is misleading as to Boies—hiring as “the best appellate lawyer in America.” Boies is, of course, famous as a trial lawyer, not as an appellate lawyer. The appellate lawyer the Ds hired was Larry Tribe, who was replaced by Boies in the Supreme Court at the eleventh hour by Gore personally.
ME: This sort of thing is part of dramatic license. Too many characters, when a few will fill all the necessary roles, confuses the issue. Combining historical figures into one happens all the time in docudramas. I once worked on a screenplay about a New Jersey murder case for an independent producer, a case in which the prosecutor changed in mid-stream and he insisted that I include both men rather than combine them and it was hell to try and pull off (I managed it by focusing on a few gimmicks such as our never seeing the face of the defendant until the very last scene), The story never got to the scriptwriting stage, just my original outline, in large part because the producer was unable to raise the money to buy story rights.
[DK]: Laura Dern gives a great over-the-top performance as Katherine Harris. Dern plays her as a completely empty-headed dim wit—never mind that Harris actually has a degree from Harvard.
ME: I am not nearly so impressed by who got what degree from where as as are you, but even given that, anyone who observed and listened to Katherine Harris during her brief but incredibly damaging time on the public stage and thinks that she could be played any other way just doesn’t understand the dramatic process. This docudrama, like all of the them, succeeds by capturing the essence of what happened with a framework of, but not slavish adherence to, the “facts.” Harris as comedy relief was one of the most memorable factors in that story as it unfolded.
[DK]: But, as you know, I love movies; and this is a good movie—in the fiction category, of course.
ME: Docudramas are “fictionalized versions of real events.” This one was quite good and successful, the measure of that, I think, being that it managed to create suspense for the viewer even though we all knew the ending. And despite the fact that heart-warming true stories are the ones most people treasure and remember, a great tragedy such as this one recreates is the stuff of great drama.
I was going to use that exchange as the basis for a posting here, but this afternoon I found this excellent review of the show by Gary Kamiya at Salon which includes much of what I already wrote and at least partial validation for my recollection that the script had been vetted by both sides.
What he said.