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Bush vs. Gore, one more time

HBO's 'Recount' takes a look at the contested Florida vote in 2000, hanging chads and all.

May 19, 2008|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

Still, Klain was so uneasy about the approach that he suggested the filmmakers create fictional characters instead of using the names of real people, a notion they rejected as unrealistic. He's most bothered by a scene in which his character, at a low point for the Democrats, tells field director Michael Whouley (played by Denis Leary): "I'm not even sure I like Al Gore."

"I didn't say it and I do like Al Gore," Klain said. "Obviously, I'm not thrilled to see it in the movie. But I hope the point that scene makes is that we were in Florida fighting for something bigger than our loyalty to one person. We were fighting for the principle of every vote counting."

The dramatization particularly rankles Christopher, who was Gore's emissary in Florida during the early days of the recount. He has not seen the film, but he read transcripts of scenes featuring his character, who is portrayed as a high-minded but naive statesman.

In one scene, Christopher, played by John Hurt, suggests to Baker -- who was spearheading Bush's Florida legal team -- that they try to resolve the recount through "diplomacy and compromise."

"That's absurd," Christoper said in an interview. "Both Baker and I knew this would be a fight to the end that only one side could win."

(Baker agreed that the film exaggerated his rival's stance: "He's not that much of a wuss.")

For Christopher, "Recount" is part of a troubling trend of docudramas purporting to be historical documents. "They're publicized in a way that indicates they're based on exhaustive research of the record, but they're in fact written in a way that produces drama, rather than an accurate version of history," he said.

Strong interviewed Christopher just once, after production on the movie had begun, and he did not send him a copy of the script to review, as he did Klain and Baker. But he defended his depiction, saying it was largely based on Toobin's book "Too Close to Call."

"I think what makes Warren Christopher such a national treasure is what made him the wrong guy for the Florida recount," the screenwriter said.

In an unexpected twist, top Bush campaign officials have given the movie largely good reviews, despite its pedigree. (Strong and Roach are both Democrats, as are many of the leading actors.)

"It's a really intelligent, really well-done movie about a complicated subject," said Ben Ginsberg, who was national counsel for Bush's 2000 campaign and who is played by Bob Balaban in the movie.

"They very much made a decision to tell the story from the Democratic point of view and their characters are more developed than the Republican characters. But having said that, they treated virtually all of us very fairly."

Baker has some quibbles with the film, including the fact that it omits the first time the U.S. Supreme Court took up the recount. Still, the former secretary of State is hosting a screening of "Recount" at his public policy institute in Houston on Tuesday as part of a forum on electoral reform.

"It's a fair rendition of what happened, but it's a Hollywood rendition," Baker said.

"There was a lot in there that he has me say that didn't happen. But look, it's a movie."

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matea.gold@latimes.com

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