A burnt-out politician experiences a spiritual rebirth in the directorial debut of Robert J. Mrazek, a former New York Representative who served in Congress for 10 years. Betraying its co-director/screenwriter’s cinematic inexperience with its hackneyed plotting and stilted dialogue, The Congressman does at least earn points for depicting its political milieu with an insider’s eye.
Treat Williams plays the central role of Maine congressman and Vietnam War veteran Charles Winship, whose malaise is signaled by his disintegrating marriage and ever-present whiskey-filled flask. He also has the unfortunate habit of ignoring the daily recital of the Pledge of Allegiance before the day’s business, and when a photographer snaps a picture of him sitting casually with his feet up on his desk, it naturally goes viral and he’s promptly disparagingly dubbed the “Pledge Dodger” in the media.
Things get even worse when a large demonstration is held at his “Mobile Office” — a trailer in which he meets his mostly disgruntled constituents. Confronted by a reporter who shoves a microphone in his face, Charlie explains that the pledge was actually created not by the Founding Fathers but rather a Christian minister, and that for years, children accompanied it with a Nazi-like salute. He then proceeds to demonstrate it, and all political hell breaks loose.
To escape the firestorm, the embattled congressman travels to a remote island in his district, accompanied by Jared (Ryan Merriman), his chief of staff, who we soon learn is in cahoots with Charlie’s political enemy, a slimy lobbyist (George Hamilton). Once there, Charlie meets with the embattled local fishermen desperately trying to sustain their livelihood that is under attack by corporate fisheries.
Despite the raging local conflict, Charlie is dazzled by the landscape’s natural beauty and charmed by the villagers’ simple way of life. He’s even more entranced by local librarian Rae (Elizabeth Marvel), who invites him to her house for a lobster dinner and offers a massage when he complains about his sore back.
Meanwhile, Jared, who’s been condescending to the islanders since arriving, reluctantly agrees to go out on a lobster boat and quickly develops an intimate friendship with a sensitive young fisherman (Chris Conroy).
As the above summary indicates, the film is rather overstuffed, with Mrazek injecting too many themes and subplots into the mix. And to say that some of those elements don’t quite work dramatically is an understatement, from Hamilton’s moustache-twirling villain to the undeveloped flirtation between the two men. Charlie’s political plight is also solved rather too neatly, via an impassioned speech that somehow convinces every listener of his noble intentions.
But The Congressman, like Charlie, means well, and it refreshingly acknowledges the positive elements of politics as well as the cynical intrigues that are the usual stuff of media portrayals. Williams delivers a wry, understated turn that makes his character eminently likeable, and Marvel is so sexily appealing as the strongly self-reliant Rae that you root for the love affair to take hold.
Distributor: Shadow Distribution
Production: Catatonk Blues LLC
Cast: Treat Williams, Ryan Merriman, Elizabeth Marvel, Jayne Atkinson, Fritz Marvel
Directors: Robert J. Mrazek, Jared Martin
Screenwriter: Robert J. Mrazek
Producers: Robert J. Mrazek, Fred Roos, Jared Martin, Johanna Giebelhaus
Executive producers: Treat Williams, Nancy Zises
Director of photography: Joe Arcidiacono
Production designer: Wendy Murray
Costume designer: Nigel Boyd
Editor: Johanna Giebelhaus
Composer: David Carbonara
Casting: Bess Fifer
Rated R, 98 minutes