Movie review: 'Caucus' spotlights chaotic Republican run-up to Iowa

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"Caucus" allows moviegoers to tag along, like a silent observer forbidden from asking questions, in the run-up to the Iowa Caucus in January 2012.

Director AJ Schnack, who became fascinated with Iowa's role in the election process in 1988, provides the who, what, when and where but often not the how or why of what's happening. He shows that money and fancy buses will only get you so far, and that candidates never know when they'll be handed a vegetarian corn dog or question (from the Post-Gazette's James O'Toole) about whether someone complaining about lack of coverage is being, well, paranoid.


Rating: No MPAA rating but PG in nature.

Anyone who's a political junkie will be fascinated to eavesdrop as Rep. Michele Bachmann tells a story about being the last child in her class to learn to tell time -- and is shown as chronically late -- or see Herman Cain sing or Newt Gingrich talk about zoos and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum confess that his wife and a daughter told him to "chill."

That advice comes in handy when a restaurant patron starts talking about drugs coming across the border and then segues, without pause, into a complaint about unnamed foreigners taking jobs from Americans.

It might appear as though director-editor Schnack is making a sly editorial comment when he features a woman in a red T-shirt waxing rhapsodic about how Newt and Callista Gingrich are so "genuine and real."

Most of the footage in "Caucus," which opens in August 2011, is 2 years old and it's not as if the outcome of the 2012 presidential election or choice of GOP candidate is in doubt. Still, the movie documents the incivility that can accompany campaign stops -- sometimes between voters as one man says to another storming out, "See ya, fascist."

"Caucus," which shows the seismic shifts in popularity, devotes more time to the candidates bookending the popularity spectrum and switching places: Ms. Bachmann and Mr. Santorum. He is the underdog every filmmaker wants and Mr. Schnack spotlights his feat of visiting all 99 Iowa counties and answering emotionally to questions about two of his children.

"Caucus," as is the fashion, has no narrator but a steady sprinkling of news sound bites, headlines (including one with the word "harassment" misspelled) and bar graphs charting how the candidates are polling. It seems scattershot and is no match for "The War Room," which admittedly didn't get behind the truly closed doors, but it's a historic snapshot of a time and place and political field.

When you have eight Republicans, it wouldn't hurt to have one more talking head, even if he or she is speaking with the benefit of hindsight.

Opens Friday at the Harris Theater, Downtown.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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