From Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Dick Cheney: Fall Films Reflect Trump-Era Politics

6:00 AM 9/5/2018

by Tatiana Siegel

Felicity Jones stars as the Supreme Court justice and Christian Bale as the former veep, part of a mostly blue wave of politically charged movies that has begun to emerge.

On the Basis of Sex - Still 2 -Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Focus Features

"I know there are projects hitting Hollywood today where a writer woke up on Nov. 9, 2016, and said, 'Oh my God, I've got to do X-Y-Z in response to this,'" says The Front Runner co-writer Jay Carson.

The "this" being the surprising ascent of Donald Trump to the presidency. Now, nearly two years after election night, a wave of post-Trump political films has begun to emerge. Whether or not they are an overt response, like Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 11/9, or coincidental timing ("Our script was basically done by the time he was elected president," says Carson), they all will be seen through the lens of the Trump era.

"Artists always hold a mirror to society and capture a reflection like no other," says On the Basis of Sex director Mimi Leder. "I think that's what we, as artists, are doing. These films are a rallying cry."

The result is a crop of films that depict various inflection points in American politics and culture but with unmistakable parallels in the new MAGA order.

  • 'American Dharma'

    Errol Morris does the deep dive on former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, the person who is arguably most responsible for Donald Trump's election (Trump included). After making its world premiere in Venice, the doc travels to Toronto, where Endeavor Content will be selling theatrical rights. One place it won't be headed: The New Yorker Festival, which rescinded its invitation following criticism from the likes of Judd Apatow and Jim Carrey — a move that will likely only improve the film's box-office potential. Oscar winner Morris (The Fog of War) is well aware of the polarizing nature of his subject and why many will bristle at the former Breitbart News executive chairman receiving a platform. “It's a criticism that I expect to hear,” Morris explains. “But he's an essential character of our times. And God knows you read about him constantly. And, yet, we know so little about him.”

  • 'Backseat'

    Adam McKay is back after the success of The Big Short. This time, he's tackling Dick Cheney, the most powerful vice president in history. Christian Bale packed on the pounds to transform himself into Cheney. The film, with an all-star supporting cast that includes Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Tyler Perry, represents a big ($40 million) bet for Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures, which has carved out a Dec. 14 release.

  • 'American Chaos'

    In the runup to the 2016 presidential election, film financier James Stern (Looper) wanted to better understand the MAGA crowd psyche, so he embedded with Trump supporters and brought a camera along for the journey. The result is the doc American Chaos, which Sony Pictures Classics will release on Sept. 14. Stern knows politics better than most producer-directors: Brother Todd Stern was President Barack Obama's chief climate negotiator.

  • 'Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes'

    Directed by Alexis Bloom, this doc chronicles the rise and fall of the late media mogul and his role in the birth of Fox News as a force shaping American politics. It's the first of several Ailes projects (scripted and docs) in development. Alex Gibney executive produced the film and Cinetic is selling theatrical rights at Toronto, where it will make its world premiere.

  • 'The Front Runner'

    In the "grab 'em by the p­­ussy" era, it's hard to imagine a time when a politician's sex life was off-limits. That time was right before Gary Hart's extramarital affair with Donna Rice became fodder for the press in 1988, derailing the Democrat's presidential campaign. Directed by Jason Reitman, Front Runner enjoys plenty of inside-the-Beltway cred given that it was written by Jay Carson (former press secretary for Hillary Clinton and the real-life inspiration for Ryan Gosling's character in The Ides of March) and veteran political reporter Matt Bai (Reitman also is a credited co-writer). Hugh Jackman stars as the fallen candidate in the Sony film, which opens Nov. 7. As for what Hart thinks, Bai says he hasn't seen it yet. "We always wanted him to feel respected by the process, and Jason reached out early to Sen. Hart and other people involved in the story and worked really hard to get their points of view and their memories and to have a sense of them as a director," says Bai. "But the movie shares so many different perspectives. It's not one perspective. So nobody saw the screenplay. I think we're all really curious to know what their reactions will be, but it's not something that we've really sought."

  • 'On the Basis of Sex'

    Bowing Christmas Day, this Focus film is the second of the year to tackle Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (after the May doc RBG) and her role in making equal rights the law of the land. Felicity Jones stars as the legal superstar who, at the age of 85, is one of the most prominent dissenting voices to some of Donald Trump's more controversial policies. Says director Mimi Leder: "People ask me, 'What kind of film did you make?' I tell them, 'I made a superhero movie.'"

    A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.