October 1998
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Movie review: The Clinton Testimony Video

by Jason Morrison

It is one of this yearís most anticipated releases, produced by the man considered top of his field, starring perhaps the single most powerful performer in the world today.

But at four hours, the Clinton Testimony Video just plain drags--following a story weíve all heard before. Not since this springís Man in the Iron Mask have viewers seen a dead horse more thoroughly beaten.

The tape stars the President of the United States (Bill Clinton) as he answers, rebuts and evades the questions of the prosecution headed up by The Independent Council (Kenneth Star, who also produced the film). Itís a familiar story: The president, by no means a sexual Puritan, is accused by Paula Jones (Paula Jones) of sexual harassment. During the long and potentially career-ruining deliberations that follow, the president says that no, he did not have sexual relations with a certain White House Intern (Monica Lewinsky), and eventually comes out scot-free. Or so he thinks.

Months later, with the prosecutor hot on his heels for other, seemingly unrelated transgressions, the president is shocked to find that the intern would be happy to divulge certain prurient information for the right price -- immunity (she testified it never happened as well).

Driven by her friend (Linda Tripp) who taped phone conversations about the whole thing and her need for dry-cleaning money, she pursues and wins immunity. The prosecutor, now bored with file-pulling and real estate, fires away at the president, providing the story with most of its action.

The president again denies it happened but is forced to waffle. Has he lied under oath? Has he committed perjury? Is that an impeachable offence? These are the questions we are left to ask as the film leaves things curiously unfinished.

Clinton, who has long been able to sway his fans with his performances but has also suffered the wrath of the critics and industry (he has never been nominated for an Academy Award), shows a little more range than he has in the past but is able to reign himself in.

Keep in mind heís supposed to be the real president, so despite what Hollywood might think he needs to be somewhat bland. Heís certainly no Harrison Ford in Air Force One, but Clinton must make a more natural, realistic performance in this role. Where Ford was able to act between dodging bullets and leaping in front of explosions, Clinton has to dodge straightforward questions and leap ahead of exposures.

Starr, who might otherwise have been the good guy in this movie, gives an underhanded, self-serving performance as the prosecutor. The role, imagined to be a way to investigate presidential wrongdoing when it was created in the 1970s, degenerates completely under Starrís portrayal. I had to keep reminding myself throughout the whole film that he was commissioned to find out about the Whitewater scandal, though you find that hardly mentioned in the questioning or literature. You have to ask yourself, what exactly is this director trying to do? This is probably the most self-gratifying, twisted turnaround of an otherwise worthwhile character since Joel Schumakerís Batman and Robin. Like Batman and Robin, this film sets a horrible precedent for future actors in the role.

This story could have been interesting, but the directorís choice of four hours focused on one person in an unremarkable room is nearly unbearable. I can appreciate the symbolism and the effect Starr and Clinton were trying to create: grim reality; no special effects or physical action to distract from the questioning; the physical and mental isolation of the main character on the screen to build sympathy or objectivity, depending on how you look at it. But four hours of the same man, answering or not answering the same questions again and again and again for four hours? The audience gave James Cameron three hours for Titanic because it was so gripping, mentally and visually. But this film is a cinematographerís nightmare, and the dialogue was too legalistic and drawn out to raise interest.

Overall, the Clinton Testimony Video fails to utilize the satire or acting seen such recent films as Wag the Dog and Primary Colors. Though the whole story would make a wonderful commentary on the state of ethics and the priorities of the nation, the principle performers and director make a mess of the whole affair. My recommendation: donít even bother, and certainly donít for the whole four hours.

Despite its flaws, this film will no doubt continue to dominate the box office, pushing out more worthy subjects such as Starvation in the Sudan and Russiaís Economy.

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