(Sidney Lumet, USA, 1986)


How can a filmmaker show or symbolise a system or network of power, without collapsing it into a chain of individual determinations?

Paranoid conspiracy theory movies (like Blow Out, 1981) sometimes take the route of indexing the system's evil in the body of one over-coded psychotic figure at the shadowy margins of the fiction – a villain who, in his singularity, can be seen as just a passing contamination of the system, rather than its logical extension.

Sidney Lumet's Power sets out to describe how mass media techniques and contexts create a political climate that swallows the individuals who think they can directly act within this theatre.

But the film can advance this critique only via a strong central character who is in control of this volatile theatre (Richard Gere as campaign manager and super metteur en scène), and who can catalyse the ridiculously pie-eyed and contradictory resolution in which he urges an underdog candidate to give out on television "something human, some straight talk, some honest feeling, something that wasn't slick or pre-packaged, engineered by those media wizards."

Victory over The System is again won through a wishful, imagined assertion of individuality and will.

MORE Lumet: Close to Eden, Fail-Safe, Guilty as Sin, Night Falls on Manhattan, Prince of the City, 12 Angry Men, The Morning After

© Adrian Martin September 1987

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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