New Obama movie: more love letter than documentary

The Obama campaign is holding screenings of 'The Road We’ve Traveled' across the US on Thursday night. The film’s director is Academy Award winner Davis Guggenheim.

Larry Downing/Reuters
President Obama talks to a crowd about American energy at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Maryland, Thursday. The Obama campaign is holding screenings of 'The Road We’ve Traveled' across the US on Thursday night.

Barack Obama the Movie debuts Thursday night. No, we’re not talking another chapter of “Game Change,” the new HBO film that dramatizes Sarah Palin’s rocky launch as a national political phenomenon.

Mr. Obama’s reelection campaign is advertising “The Road We’ve Traveled” as a 17-minute documentary that chronicles the first three years of his presidency. But really, it’s an infomercial, aimed at reminding the legions who voted for Obama four years ago why they liked him and why they should get excited again – and donate and volunteer.

A two-minute trailer released Thursday morning begins with the sonorous voice of actor Tom Hanks: “How do we understand this president and his time in office? Do we look at the day’s headlines, or do we remember what we as a country have been through?”

Clearly, the central theme of the film isn’t going to be, “How you’re better off now than you were four years ago,” with unemployment hanging tough at 8.3 percent and foreclosures up in many states. Rather, it will be more, “Here are the disasters I have prevented,” whether it be the economic crisis or the impending collapse of the auto industry. Add in health-care reform, and you have a record that may not be popular across the board, but can at least rally the Democratic base. The killing of Osama bin Laden is the kicker.

In fact, the film’s director, Academy Award winner Davis Guggenheim, asserted on CNN last week that the biggest “negative” he found about Obama was that 17 minutes wasn’t enough time to chronicle all his accomplishments. Interviewer Piers Morgan nearly jumped out of his chair.

"Oh, come off it!" he said.

"But where do you find fault in him, personally?" Mr. Morgan tried again. "I don't, frankly," Mr. Guggenheim replied.

OK, so the movie is more love letter than “documentary.” But at least it gives loyal Democrats a counter-argument to the Obama-bashing that has infused the GOP primaries (when the candidates aren’t aiming at one another). And independent voters aren’t likely to see the film, because it takes a certain partisan motivation to find it. So the choice of the controversial Elizabeth Warren as one of the people delivering testimonials isn’t risky. Ms. Warren, Obama’s former adviser on consumer protection and now a Senate candidate in Massachusetts, is a rock star to liberals.

The Obama campaign is holding screenings across the US Thursday night, including an invitation-only event for entertainment-industry VIPs in Beverly Hills, Calif. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt will speak with the audience after, according to The Hollywood Reporter. So will Guggenheim, who won his Oscar for directing “An Inconvenient Truth,” the documentary with former Vice President Al Gore. Guggenheim also produced a 30-minute ad for Obama before the 2008 election.

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