It’s President’s Day: one of those holidays you don’t really know how to properly celebrate except by sleeping in past noon or finding a good sale. Luckily, Reel Reactions can’t ignore today’s ode to the great American Presidents since many have become the focus of acclaimed biopics, from last year’s Spielberg-directed Lincoln to the great HBO miniseries John Adams. Instead of the typical Top 10 Presidential Biopics, we thought we could appreciate some of the highest and lowest points of our nation’s most interesting Presidents by imagining a few of their lives that would make for very interesting biopics and sure to be Oscar-bait performances. Some ideas are purely wishful thinking; others are actually already in development. Without further ado, 5 Presidential biopics that must happen sooner or later:
1. George Washington
Title: The General
Storyline: At the peak of the American Revolution, George Washington (Brad Pitt) begins to doubt his role as Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army as his troops lose battle after battle. He chooses to camp his troops at Valley Forge in December of 1777, where they endure a long, cold, and malnourished winter. With the help of his endearing wife, Martha Washington (Helen Hunt), the wise Baker General Christopher Ludwig (Christoph Waltz), and Washington’s right-hand man and new Quartermaster General at Valley Forge, Nathanael Greene (Benedict Cumberbatch), Washington pushes through the winter and those who emerge alive emerge stronger than ever, ultimately able to win the war.
Starring: Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Helen Hunt, & Christoph Waltz
Directed by:Darren Aronofsky; After building a reputation for psychologically mind-bending indies with Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky seems to be taking a turn in his career with his upcoming Hollywood blockbuster Noah, an epic-scaled adaptation of the Biblical ark story. He’s announced that next on his list is a biopic about the life of America’s first president. Few details are known about Aronofsky’s intentions, other than the film will be “Unforgiven-like,” so we can only speculate on the big questions of who gets to play the baity role of George Washington and what time period the film will focus on. We think the above cast and story would work wonders.
2. Thomas Jefferson
Storyline:After a close election, Thomas Jefferson (Michael Shannon) is sworn in as president, amidst national debt and partisan political strife, and struggles as the center of attention since he doesn’t understand the norms he challenges. As he and the bolder and firmer Vice President, Aaron Burr (William Fichtner), make the Louisiana Purchase, they also struggle with their Federalist detractors, led by Alexander Hamilton (Jeremy Renner), who is killed in the infamous duel with Burr. Meanwhile, Jefferson manically obsesses over remodeling his plantation, Monticello, and struggles as a widower to maintain his home, with the reluctant assistance of a slave, Sally Hemings (Zoe Saldana), who will go on to be his lover.
Starring:Michael Shannon, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Renner, & William Fichtner
Directed by: Jeff Nichols; No film has yet to tackle the fascinating character of Thomas Jefferson, but it’s about time one did. Jeff Nichols, hot off instant classics Take Shelter and Mud, and inches away from the A-list, would be the perfect man to explore the growing instability of this obsessive, depressed, and socially inept president, and it would be the perfect big-budget epic to let Nichols prove his worth to Hollywood and cement his stature as one of the growing great directors of our time.
3. Andrew Jackson
Title: Old Hickory
Storyline: Andrew Jackson (Alan Rickman), aggressive military man and frequent dueler, changes the face of American politics when he defeats incumbent President John Quincy Adams (Bryan Cranston) through efforts of mudslinging and spoils with the help of a running mate, Quincy Adam’s thorny Vice President John C. Calhoun (Edward Norton), and The Great Communicator Martin Van Buren (Matt Damon). Meanwhile, Jackson tries to hide his conflict with his unfaithful wife Rachel (Julianne Moore), who dies mysteriously at the time of Jackson’s inauguration. Once in office, Jackson panders to no one, and a political career that originated with the sincerest intentions spirals into moral oblivion when he sends thousands of American Indians down the Trail of Tears.
Starring: Alan Rickman, Edward Norton, Julianne Moore, Matt Damon, & Bryan Cranston
Directed by: David Fincher; Since The Social Network and House of Cards, David Fincher has proven he is worth more than just dark, gritty crime thrillers, and that he is also apt at creating tense political dramas with rich characters and immersive stories. Right now, he’d be the perfect director to tell the story of the biggest anti-hero of the American Presidents, and Alan Rickman, even coming off playing Ronald Reagan in Lee Daniels’ The Butler last year, would be sure to submerge himself into the psyche of the heartless genius.
4. Theodore Roosevelt
Title: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
Storyline: A cradle to casket biopic, the film starts with Theodore’s childhood, marked by illness and an active fascination with animals. We follow the fraternal success in college of grown-up Theodore (Leonardo DiCaprio), then move to the tragic loss of his mother and wife on the same day in 1884, and then his successive life as a Western cowboy working with good friend Sheriff Seth Bullock (Josh Brolin). After marrying childhood friend Edith Carow (Jessica Chastain), Theodore returns to politics and finds himself among the diverse crew of “Rough Riders” in Cuba during the Spanish-American War led by former Confederate General Joseph Wheeler (Kurt Russell). After the assassination of President McKinley, Theodore becomes the youngest man inaugurated as President and maintains good relations with the press, but opts to endorse his friend William Howard Taft (John Goodman) rather than run for re-election, a decision that crushes their friendship when Theodore decides to run against President Taft by forming the Bull Moose Party. When that fails, Theodore treks on an Amazonian expedition with Candido Rondon (Benicio Del Toro). After the death of his son in World War One, an aging Theodore tries to remain active despite health issues that will leads to his eventual death.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jessica Chastain, John Goodman, Benicio Del Toro, Kurt Russell, & Josh Brolin
Directed by: Martin Scorsese; Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have been rumored to be trying to develop a film about the fascinating life of Theodore Roosevelt since they released The Aviator together ten years ago, but for whatever unfortunate reason, the project seems doomed to ever actually get made. It’s a shame we’ll probably never get to see a three-hour-long, highly entertaining life-spanning portrait of Roosevelt, similar to the pair’s portrayals of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street and Howard Hughes in The Aviator, but we can always keep our fingers crossed.
5. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Title: Term Four
Storyline: On his deathbed, Franklin D. Roosevelt (Tom Hanks) recounts his presidency to his wife Eleanor (Dianne Wiest), particularly the pride over his New Deal management of the Great Depression with Cabinet members Frances Perkins (Frances McDormand) and Cordell Hull (John Slattery), the question of his decisions during World War II, including the development of the atom bomb and internment of Japanese Americans, and his relationship with Winston Churchill (Anthony Hopkins) and Joseph Stalin (Gerard Depardieu). Integrated through his historical memories comes the pain regarding his lifelong battle against polio.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Hopkins, Frances McDormand, John Slattery, & Gerard Depardieu
Directed by: Stephen Daldry; Although FDR has been portrayed time and time again on the big screen, from playing a minor role in movies like Annie to the recent Bill Murray flop Hyde Park on Hudson, the man widely considered one of the greatest American presidents ever has never gotten the proper biopic his illustrious career deserves. A film about the longest-serving president would be best done via flasbacks, roughly divided in half between the success of the New Deal and the tension of World War II. Tom Hanks possesses the uncanny warmth and skill to portray FDR, and director Stephen Daldry has proven his expertise with nonlinear timelines and emotional period pieces in The Hours, matching him well with the likable but struggling Presidential hero.
Happy President’s Day!
Article by Matthew D’Innocenzo