Danny Strong, who played Jonathan on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and later Paris's boyfriend Doyle on "Gilmore Girls," is one of my favorite young sad-sack character actors. Short, scrawny, and heavy-browed, Strong plays the impotent rage of the unpopular and unheard beautifully. He's also smart enough to know that he's gotten too old to play high school roles and is transitioning smoothly into a new role: screenwriter.
Strong's script for Recount, made into a movie for HBO by Austin Powers' Jay Roach, is an effective and direct telling of its story. The story is the legal confusion in the period after Election Day 2000 when the whole nation waited to see which way Florida would turn. Strong and Roach telescope the action by showing a rather wide range of events from a relatively limited number of points of view. In a few cases, rather than constructing contrived scenes to get judicial opinions across, the film simply shows an actor looking directly at the camera and speaking them. That makes Recount seem a bit more like a history class filmstrip than it needs to be.
Throughout, both the script and the director are largely impartial. The Democratic strategists on Gore's side use more rhetoric about every vote being counted than the Republican team, who are out just to win. But no punches are pulled with regards to the Democrats' efforts to limit the recounts to heavily liberal counties, and both sides make a point fairly early on of defining the whole election crisis as a purely political struggle.
That's Recount's strongest theme, and ultimately what makes it kind of a drag. The story follows through to the Supreme Court voting, along drastically partisan lines (a travesty about which I recently read in more detail in Jeffrey Toobin's book The Nine), to run out the clock on Gore. No matter what side of the political divide you might fall on, this just isn't a pleasant thing to watch. Recount isn't able to provide context or pathos; it's just something to squirm along to all over again. Laura Dern's recreation of Katherine Harris is quite brilliant and Kevin Spacey, Tom Wilkinson, Mitch Pileggi, and many others do a stern, serious job with this material. Recount could have used more humor, and more natural dialogue, and less awkward incorporation of stand-ins for the candidates. No appearance by Gore and Bush at all would have been better, as the film seems to believe quite plainly that the recount imbroglio really had nothing to do with either. That's the most politically neutral element of the film -- soldiers on both sides convey doubt about the candidates for whom they're fighting.