Swing Vote (2008)

Swing Vote, with Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Nathan Lane, and Stanley Tucci.

(no spoilers)

This movie, about one man whose ballot in the presidential election is somehow not counted, has a lot to say about the political process and a lot to say about how we, the common people, play a role in it whether we know it or not. Sometimes, when we try to make an important point, we take one specific example and we try to expand it to apply universally: If you accept this idea in this one situation, will you also apply it to THIS situation? Swing Vote sort of does the opposite. By focusing on the vote of one man, we get an example of the entire voting process and all the compromises candidates and voters make.

More than a lesson in civics, though, this film is sensitive, funny, and heartbreaking. Kevin Costner’s character, Bud Johnson, has a ten-year-old daughter named Molly, played by Madeline Carroll, who is the heart and soul (and brains, come to think of it) of the film, and she turns out a performance that is just amazing. She manages to be smart and still childlike (unlike Anna Paquin in The Piano), and not just a small grownup. I’m reminded of some excellent early performances of Dakota Fanning and Mara Wilson, but I think Carroll’s performance in Swing Vote might be better.

The film is worth seeing just for Madeline Carroll, but there’s a lot more to recommend it; I was moved by the characters and by elements of the plot that had me crying throughout the entire final act. It’s easy for a political movie to make you think, but as for making you feel? Maybe anger, indignation, or disgust (see Wag the Dog or Bulworth), but not conviction, determination, and compassion, and that’s what Swing Vote did for me. I cried for the characters, but I also cried for the real-life, everyday Americans these characters represented, and I cried a little bit for myself and my country. A nation with such lofty ambitions and ideals as the liberty and justice for all is bound to fall short of them, but there is a nobility in trying to uphold them even in the face of overwhelming cynicism, and I think that’s something America does well: It makes us believe in the dream, even when all evidence points away from it. A film like this cannot change what’s broken in the political process, but I think it can call our attention to what’s wrong with our own (and I mean EACH our own) thinking processes and ask us what we are going to do about it, because if there’s one thing each of us can change, it’s our attitudes and actions.

Kevin Costner kind of underacts here, but he does a great job in the final scene. Hopper is probably the weak link. I liked Kelsey Grammer quite a bit in this, and I have yet to see the role Stanley Tucci doesn’t totally impress me with.

This film put me through an emotional wringer. I am really glad I saw it.


I don’t have much to add to Mitchell’s review of Swing Vote, except to echo how great Madeline Carroll was in this role. She’s definitely one to watch.

Dennis Hopper was the weakest link (good-bye!) because he looked too weak in the film. Not like a viable candidate for President. One thing people may not like about the film is that there are several “silly” scenes in it. The overall messages, personal boundaries and under what circumstances will we cross them, the struggle we have regarding the idea of the American Dream and the personal failures we deal with on a daily basis were respectfully treated in this film.

5 Responses to “Swing Vote (2008)”

  1. Reid


    I would not have recommended this film to anyone, although I would guess that possibly John, Don, Jill, Marc, Tony would like this, although I wouldn’t think they would like it enough for me to recommend. (Don probably has the best chance of liking this.)

    Wow. That’s directed at Mitchell’s (and Penny’s, if she basically agreed with him) review. I just had a totally different reaction than they did from the film. First of all, let me start with some things I agreed with. I liked Kevin Costner’s comedic abilities in this. I haven’t seen him in that type of role for a long time (Bull Durham), but this role reminded me that he is a good comedic actor. I also thought the Madeline Carrol displayed solid acting chops, particularly the more dramatic moments (like when she cries).

    Having said that I had a hard time getting into the two characters. First of all, while Kevin Costner is funny, I really didn’t like the more dramatic elements of his character. I had a hard time shaking the fact that this guy was incredibly irresponsible as a parent. And the film did very little to soften my view and sympathize with him. I think one of the main reasons for this is that the filmmakers played the child-as-parent-and-parent-as-child relationship as something cute and humorous. I think I understood that, and I sometimes enjoyed Costner’s part in the exchanges with Carroll.

    But part of the reason the relationship didn’t work for me was I was not into Carroll’s character as the precocious child–or even child as adult. I know Mitchell felt like she was both childlike and adult, and I agree that her acting was good in some of more serious moments. But I’m tired of Hollywood’s child-as-adult type of characters.

    Getting back to Costner. Another key part of the character that I thought was totally hokey was his transformation at the end. I was dreading that he would turnaround and then give one of those Rocky IV speeches (“If you’s can change. We’s alls can change.”), and that’s basically what I thought happened at the end. The blame doesn’t go strictly to Costner, but the director and screenwriter, who didn’t develop the character well enough. Also, the fact that they went for the kind of humor they did (including with the politicians) made buying the more serious elements of the film all but impossible for me. If the filmmakers wanted to ultimately make some serious statements about civic responsibility in the political process, they had the wrong tone from the start.

    I also didn’t care for the depiction of the candidates. Candidates do pander to voters in ways that indicate they lack convictions, but certainly not in the way the film depicted. Now, I know this is a comedy, and if I thought the scenes with Hopper and Grammer(sp?) were funny, I wouldn’t have minded so much.

  2. Mitchell

    I’m mildly surprised you even saw this. But I’m also surprised that you disliked it THIS much. Were you not moved by the Costner speech at the end? I mean, forget that the transformation was unconvincing for you; did you not find this language, designed to remind us all about why we’re Americans and why we even vote, at least somewhat moving? I still get chicken skin sometimes when I think about it.

  3. Reid

    I wish I had the dvd with me, so I could listen to the speech again. But since I couldn’t take the transformation of his character–and the premise and depiction of the politicians–seriously, I had a hard time taking the speech seriously, too. Do you remember specific ideas/lines in the speech?

  4. Mitchell

    Testes testes one two three.

  5. Mitchell

    I fixed it!

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.