Don’t Shush a President: A (Film-Style) Review of the First Presidential Debate
Following the US presidential debate that took place at the end of September, in a film-style review Rhys Wallis evaluates both candidates’ performances and what it suggests for the future of the United States.
The First Presidential Debate hit screens across the world on Tuesday 29th September, and the cast seemed set to take their running narrative to the next level; if only we had known in advance which level that would be. President Donald Trump delivered a performance that will go down in the history books of debates, but for all the wrong reasons. Light on substance and always cutting across other actors’ lines, Mr Trump was not able to capture the same energy which made his debate performances against Hillary Clinton in the prequel series so enticing to voters – but the box office reviews aren’t out in full yet, we’ll have to wait for November 3rd for that.
The President – cast in his typical role as an outsider fighting for ‘ordinary Americans’ – was still able to call on his base effectively, reciting his key line “Stand back and stand by” without a hitch. He was on camera for a while – 38 minutes out of a 90-minute run time – and certainly made use of that to get his trademark performance into the heads of viewers nationally and internationally. It won’t ring well with critics, but it might just be a crowd pleaser, especially when he talked about his co-star’s previous performances.
Cast opposite the President was Joe Biden – a bold choice from the director, going for two elderly male leads in a world seeming to want to move away from that, but the people keep buying tickets so who are we to judge – and the former star of ‘Barack Obama 2008’ and ‘The Senate’ wasn’t being tipped to perform particularly well against his combative leading man. This is where inter cast rivalry can backfire, because when Mr Trump had trailed in the pre-movie publicity that Biden wouldn’t be able to hold a sustained performance, it led to reduced expectations, which Mr Biden was able to surpass, despite giving a less than stellar performance. Biden usually thrives in the role of an insider, staying cool and on message, but he ended up straying from that role as his performance seemed to merge towards the performance of his co-star. Biden was muddled at times, and seemed to lose his cool at the interruptions from his co-star, snapping about half way into the debate and telling Mr Trump to “shut up”: not vintage Biden, he was showing his years. He did manage to capture more screen time than his co-star, with 43 minutes on screen, but it wasn’t the best use of that time.
President Donald Trump delivered a performance that will go down in the history books of debates, but for all the wrong reasons.
The final, and perhaps most difficult, casting decision was who to pick in the role of the moderator: Chris Wallace – known for his role in the TV Series Fox News Sunday and his key role as moderator in the final instalment of the 2016 Debates Film Saga, a performance for which he was roundly praised – was cast in that role. It was far from his best performance. Unable to keep the actors from talking over eachother, Wallace wasn’t at his best, but his role was made far more difficult by those co-stars.
The plot of this film was difficult to follow because of this battle between co-stars, something we might have thought to have been easier as there was no audience present for the filming, therefore no interruptions – but this offered little help. Most of the plot revolved around the Coronavirus pandemic, which made up 20 minutes of the runtime, but the intense battle was what really captured the narrative, even drawing away from the other main points that Wallace attempted to steer the plot back to.
Critics have been in from all sides on this issue, with Chris Christie (a fan of Mr Trump and his acting coach for this film) calling Biden’s performance “shaky”, but also calling Trump “too hot”, as in overly aggressive, towards his co-star. Biden fan, Hillary Clinton – whose role in the 2020 Series Mr Biden is filling – has said she was “so proud of Joe Biden”. Overall however, this was not a good use of 90 minutes of my time, nor of the time of the American people: I can’t see this one being looked back on as a classic, or even a cult favourite.