‘The Congressman’ is earnest and feel-good but also unoriginal and predictable
PHOTO BY VISION FILMS
Where is it playing?: The Palm (Ends May 19)
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $Streaming
What's it worth?: $Streaming
Treat Williams stars as Maine Congressman Charlie Winship, who’s having a rough day. First he’s caught on tape willfully sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance while his fellow congressional members stand. Then he punches a fellow congressman during a “friendly” basketball game. And to top it off, he and his ex-wife, Casey (Jayne Atkinson), are finalizing their divorce. With no respite in sight, he heads to a remote island in his district to deal with a fishing rights scandal. After meeting the self-reliant and rugged individuals who inhabit this small island, he begins to reassess his life. (98 min.)
Glen: Viewers love feel-good stories of redemption, and this film does its low-budget best to deliver. After the set-up and some withering interactions with constituents in the congressman’s mobile office, he heads to a remote fishing island where the island residents, who have a self-imposed fishing moratorium six months of the year to protect their waters, are battling an outside fishing conglomerate that wants to come in and fish the area clean. It’s become a shooting conflict with at least one island resident’s boat burned to ash. The island residents want to know what Charlie’s going to do to protect their 400-year-old way of life. Charlie used to be an eager, earnest congressman, but after 18 years in office, he’s become jaded, and he knows it. His top aide, Jared Barnes (Ryan Merriman), wants his position and power and is willing to make an unholy alliance with ex-Congressman Laird Devereaux (a preternaturally preserved George Hamilton), now a lobbyist for the fishing conglomerate. Will Charlie have the internal fortitude to help the residents while reclaiming his reputation from an attacking media? What follows is a rather predictable, unoriginal story of a man who gets his groove back after meeting island divorcée Rae Blanchard (Elizabeth Marvel). It’s not that the film is bad; it’s just a story we’ve seen before done better.
Anna: There isn’t anything new or exciting in the storyline of The Congressman, just familiar, Hallmark Channel Presents clichés about the recent divorcé finding himself and love. Charlie does himself no favors when asked why he didn’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance; instead of apologizing, he defends himself by noting that until World War II the pledge was said along with a straight armed salute, much like the kind associated with Adolf Hitler. He’s suddenly under even more scrutiny by the media, and needs any and every reason to get out of town. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Williams in a leading role, and as a co-producer as well as star, The Congressman may be a bit of a pet project for him. The plotline picks up once love interest Rae is introduced, a saucy island native who helps Charlie discover what’s really important in life. Aide Jared is torn between acting selfishly and doing what is right, while also having his portrait painted by the island’s best portrait artist/deckhand. You see where this movie is going pretty quickly, and bets are you’ll guess the ending far before the credits roll.
Glen: To me, one of the most interesting parts of the story was Ben (Chris Conroy), the island artist, and Jared’s relationship. There are subtle suggestions that Ben may be gay—from the longing way he looks at Jared to the hurt look on his face when a drunken Jared muses about the sexual preferences of local fisherwoman Matty Pierce (Kim Blacklock). Nothing ever comes of the plot point other than Jared inviting Ben to come to Washington, D.C., for a visit, but to me the mystery of their subtle romance and Jared’s apparent ease around Ben offered the film’s only moment of painting outside the lines, if you’ll pardon the pun. This is the feature-length debut for the filmmakers—writer and co-director Robert Mrazek and co-director Jared Martin. Martin, a character actor since 1970, has had a lot of experience in front of the camera. Mrazek is a five-term Democratic congressman from New York. Each obviously brings insight and specific skill to the production, and you can’t really fault the acting of the principal players—Williams and Marvel both deliver good work. The problem is the film never takes the sort of chances that might have bumped it out of its familiar rut. It’d be right at home as a made-for-TV drama. I think plenty of viewers would find it a crowd pleaser as it’s definitely catering to a certain demographic looking for an uplifting story of redemption, but others would probably reject its clichés and treacle.
Anna: The movie’s faults don’t fall on the actors, who all pull their weight in The Congressman. Instead, it’s the storyline that feels tired and predictable, with no unique twist to pull it up from the mundane. There were a few attempts at originality that ultimately fizzled, such as the possible love interest between Jared and Ben. At the tail end of the film, Charlie delivers an impassioned speech about what it means to be an American, with the right and privilege to choose whether or not to pledge your allegiance to anyone or anything. It’s sweet, maybe a bit too sweet for my taste personally. While it doesn’t feel like a waste of time and there are some very cute moments, The Congressman doesn’t warrant a special trip to the theater to catch it on the big screen. It has the feel of a made-for-TV movie, and may be better enjoyed from the comfort of your couch once it shows up on your streaming service.
Split Screen is written by Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.