I'm intrigued by the upcoming movie by its director, but I have some doubts about it:
Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan will be reteaming with their Kill Your Darlings director John Krokidas for another real-life inspired film, trading in their roles as Beat Generation writers for ambitious, would-be politicians.
StarStream Media announced that the company will finance and produce Krokidas’ Young Americans, based on the ... script by Wes Jones. The film is inspired by the real lives of Karl Rove, played by DeHaan, and Lee Atwater, played by Radcliffe, on a cross-country road trip as ambitious college students....
This script has been kicking around for a while -- a few years ago, it was the top-ranked film script at The Black List, a site where film professionals can assess unproduced screenplays. At that time, the title was College Republicans. The author of a site called ScriptShadow reviewed the screenplay in 2010. It sounds as if it's basically a buddy movie, with Atwater as the more interesting (and maybe anti-heroic?) of the two:
It’s August 1973 and a cocky young whippersnapper named Karl Rove decides to run for the chairman of the College Republicans (against the advice of his peers)....
After some discussion, it’s deemed that the key to winning this election is through the South. So on a plane Rove hops and upon getting to Atlanta, he meets his wily no-holds-barred campaign manager Lee Atwater, a pint-sized little bugger who’d sell out his own brother if he thought it would get him a couple of steps ahead in his career.
The straight-laced Rove despises Atwater immediately but the two have no choice but to work together. It’s been ordered by the higher-ups.
Rove’s competition is a man named Terry Dolan, a pompous chap who figures this will be a cakewalk over the relatively unknown Rove.
But Atwater is a fierce (and dirty) competitor (his motto is: “You just figure out whatever it is that gets people most riled up, and you hang it around the other guy’s neck.”) who immediately goes after Dolan’s girlfriend in order to find out his secrets. When he discovers that Dolan is secretly gay, he spreads the rumor through backchannels and within a week, Dolan’s reputation is ruined and he drops out of the race. Never mind the fact that Atwater was wrong and Dolan wasn’t gay. Whatever gets the job done.
OK -- stop right there. Dolan was a real Republican operative, and while he never came out of the closet, it was no secret that he was gay. As Frank Rich wrote in 2005:
Terry Dolan, a closeted gay man, ran the National Conservative Political Action Committee, which as far back as 1980 was putting out fund-raising letters that said, "Our nation's moral fiber is being weakened by the growing homosexual movement and the fanatical E.R.A. pushers (many of whom publicly brag they are lesbians)." (Dolan recanted and endorsed gay rights before he died of AIDS in 1986.)
Is the director of Kill Your Darlings -- a very gay movie -- really going to put Terry Dolan back in the closet?
It's quite possible that that aspect of the screenplay will be changed -- but regardless, it sure seems as if we'll be expected to find Atwater and possibly Rove admirable in their roguishness. Here's more from that ScriptShadow review:
Atwater is a great role for an actor. He plays by his own set of rules. He’s dirty, he’s a liar, he’s a rogue. This character is going to pop on screen. You also have some nice conflict going on between the leads. At times it actually plays out like a buddy cop movie -- two guys with opposing views on life stuck together trying to achieve the same thing (if there’s an argument for College Republicans taking a chance – this would be the area it took a chance in). And to top it all off, you have a solid villain in Dolan.
So Dolan's the villain. That makes Rove and Atwater ... what?
And I'm also concerned that the screenplay got a favorable notice at Breitbart's old Big Hollywood site in 2010 from AWR Hawkins:
From what I’ve seen of the script, the aspects of Rove’s life highlighted in the film will not provide the left with as much red meat as they probably want. In other words, while the film casts a bad light on Rove in more than one instance, its enduring focus on Rove’s pragmatism actually seems to justify his misdeeds by showing that he stuck to his guns instead of abandoning ship when the going got tough....
... Jones’ presents Rove as man who both outsmarted and outmaneuvered those who opposed him.
Machiavelli would be proud.
Now, maybe this will have the feel of a movie like American Hustle, in which grubby, amoral, hapless characters nevertheless seem understandably human -- you feel for them, but you never admire them. Then I'm interested.
I should keep an open mind about this -- but, sorry, I'm going to pass on a movie that portrays either of these guys as no worse than a colorful rogue. They helped create the horrible political culture we live in, which means they're among the people most responsible for America's present-day dysfunction. I don't think I can sit through a movie that wants me to root for them to succeed.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog