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Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll joined Reel Progress, the Center for American Progress’ progressive film series, last night for a screening of the new feature film “Swing Vote." The soon-to-be-released film balances both politics and entertainment in the highly charged atmosphere surrounding this election year. Costner, who stars in the lead role, stressed its value as a breezy break from tough choices and tense feelings in Washington, D.C. Although the audience at D.C.’s E Street Cinema was full of “opinion-makers,” they could still enjoy an amusing diversion, he said.
Costner plays Bud Johnson, a jobless, hopeless single father who lives in a trailer in Texico, New Mexico with his 12-year-old daughter Molly, played by Carroll. Politics is the furthest thing from his mind; early on, Bud describes himself as a “conscious objector.” Molly, on the other hand, is intelligent and politically aware. She takes care of the two of them until a series of events on Election Day brings an end to their ordinary existence. Bud becomes the ultimate swing voter—his vote alone will decide which candidate will become the next president.
“Swing Vote” stays light and sunny for the most part as Bud revels in his popularity and celebrity status. But while the movie has its share of satirical commentary about the state of national politics and media, it is really the story of a father and daughter. Newcomer Carroll shines as the solitary voice of reason, bringing gravity to the film in several heart-wrenching moments.
The cast also includes Kelsey Grammar and Dennis Hopper as the presidential candidates and Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane as top political advisers. No one can play a disheveled but good-at-heart bum like Costner, and he is in top form even as he passes out drunk in his pick-up truck.
The makers of this movie try hard to stay bipartisan and unbiased, and they do a good job. Both candidates seem affable and reasonable, even though the advisers are ruthless and unprincipled. Though some jokes are little more than transparent references to real candidates of the past and present, “Swing Vote” portrays both sides fairly.
The movie’s only overt message is not controversial: vote. Each vote matters, and one vote can decide everything.
Anna Soellner of Reel Progress spoke before the film about the struggles many Americans face because they do not have government identification like a driver’s license, which can cause them to be turned away at the polls. This requirement especially hurts the handicapped, older people, urban dwellers, and young people who cannot afford to learn to drive, she said.