Monday, October 29, 2007

Jimmy Carter Man from Plains (Movie Review)

Say what you will about Jimmy Carter's stint as president — he's done some amazing things since leaving office, and his work with Habitat for Humanity is really just a fraction of his good deeds.

At 83, he's still nailing away with his hammer, working as a diplomat, writing controversial books, and exercising daily. And, wouldn't you know it, but he still holds hands with his wife and you can sense a genuine tingle of excitement in his voice whenever he speaks to her?

OK, OK. So I admit it: I may be a bit bias. I had a fair amount of respect for Carter even before I watched the 2007 documentary Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains, but I mean how could you not like a man who started life as a peanut and cotton farmer, and then rose to the ranks of nuclear physicist, only to later become president?

But what I like most about him — and much of what this film showcases — is what he's done since then: for the U.S. and the world at large.

And while this film does borrow from old footage and news reels, it does so in the context of the 2006. In other words, the director essentially followed Carter around all of last year, and then flashes back to previous Carter exploits only when it's pertinent to do so. By this design, the film doesn't so much aspire to biograph a former president, as it does to capture his psychology.

Director Jonathan Demme also has a clear fondness for Carter, but that's not to say the film doesn't offer fair representation of Carter's critics. In fact, when Carter's last book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid was published — and Carter was deemed an "anti-semite" in some circles purely on the basis of him laying some of the blame on the Israeli government for conflicts over the West Bank — you get to hear from folks who took issue with Carter's controversial stance.

And that gives way to another facet of the film: it's not just a movie about Carter. Rather, it seems to touch rather poignantly on two other topics: ongoing conflicts in the Mid-East, and how the American media (not to mention, political circles) react to people who take unpopular — albeit educated — stances on controversial topics.

Whatever you think of Carter, there's no denying the way he's looked at by people who know him: whether he's at a church function mingling with fellow parishioners; riding his bike with his wife; or sitting in a car with his publicist in the backseat... the people he knows all seem to look at him with this undeniable hint of affection in their eyes.

Not the sort of "look" that comes from being in the presence of the rich and famous, so much as the awe that comes with realizing genuinely good people can and do exist.

That's not to say he's perfect; just that he should serve as an inspiration to the rest of us to stop sitting on our butts and bemoaning the shape of the world.

See the film, and you'll know what I mean.



Beth said...

Jimmy Carter has always made me proud to be a Georgian. I really need to get off my a** and see this while it's playing in a theater. Great review.

Eli Edmundson said...

This is the first I've heard of this, your review definitely makes me want to see it!

Look out for the Persepolis film! If it's half as good as the comic it'll be well worth seeing.

M@ said...

I'm definitely going to toke before that one.

I don't mean that as a pejorative. Just sayin'.

disgruntled world citizen said...

I was firmly on the Carter bandwagon when I was six and he was running for his second term. I think I was the only one who voted for him in my first-grade class, but that was a long time ago, I have since switched sides of the political debate, but that's neither here nor there.

I have heard people say that they think Carter is a better president as an ex-president than he was as a president.

This sounds like a good movie, I'll put it on my queue.