Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Clinton, Inc.

Grade : B Year : 2016 Director : Bill Baber Running Time : 1hr 30min Genre :
Movie review score
B

The good news for anyone looking for a documentary about Hillary Clinton, and the Clintons in general, this year is that Bill Baber’s “Clinton, Inc.” is miles above Dinesh D’Souza’s “Hillary’s America” in quality and form in that it is actually a documentary rather than a piece of propaganda that relies more on re-enactments and right-wing rhetoric than actual investigation into the lives of Bill and Hillary, the former and (possibly) next President of the United States. When I received my initial email from the director about reviewing “Clinton, Inc.,” he said that he tried to keep his own biases at the door, and that the film has been criticized by both the right and left. That made me curious to watch it, even though the title, derived from the 2014 book by Daniel Halper, immediately gives off the feeling that this film is coming from a particular vantage point that will not really help Hillary in November. I’m nonetheless glad that I did watch it, however, because it was compelling (certainly more so than D’Souza’s film), even if it wasn’t quite as even-handed as, I think, the director hoped for. That doesn’t make it a bad movie, however.

After 26 years in the national spotlight, it’s practically impossible for anyone of a particular age to not have their views on the Clintons, both as a family unit and as politicians, etched in stone, at this point. We’ve all heard the stories and innuendos about their marriage, their time in the White House, and their time after Bill’s presidency ended, which has kept them firmly in the public eye. “Clinton, Inc.” starts at the beginning for both of them, giving us biographical information about their family lives before they met, and after they met and fell in love at Yale. The details are known- Bill was raised by his grandmother for his first four years, and his mother, whom had many men in her life, after that, Hillary was raised in a relatively conservative household and was a “Goldwater girl” before college. Their early lives are presented as an early snapshot of who they would become when public service called to them, first with Bill being governor of Arkansas, and then with Bill’s run for the White House. We hear of Hillary’s ambition and controlling influence on Bill, who has a weakness for women that threatens to bring down not just Bill’s political career, but Hillary’s own ambitions. We hear about Chelsea’s birth, and feel sympathy for what must have been an impossible situation for her when the Lewinsky scandal rocked Bill’s Presidency, and we see the formation of the Clinton Foundation, and how it became not just a way for Bill to remain in the limelight after his presidency, but how it has become a family affair.

A couple of years ago, Netflix released a documentary that chronicled the life and presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney, who lost in 2012 to Barack Obama. It was slight, but it was nonetheless a fascinating fly-on-the-wall look at the man, his family, and his political ambitions that gave me more respect for him than I did during the 2012 campaign, even if I still don’t agree with him in terms of ideology. Baber and his producer, Doug Sain (who was a producer on D’Souza’s 2012 hit, “2016: Obama’s America,” before breaking away from him) are not so lucky in getting access to the Clintons, which means we have to rely on talking heads for their perspective. That is problematic, because filmmakers are invariably going to go for people who will support the central thesis of their film, and “Clinton, Inc.” is no different. We get Dick Morris, a former friend of the Clintons since the ’80s who stopped working with them in the ’90s; Rick Lazio, who ran against Hillary during her New York Senate bid; John Gartner, a professor who has looked into Bill’s upbringing and finds questions about his true parentage in terms of who his father is, as well as parallels between his grandmother, who was a stabilizing anchor for him, and his mother in terms of Hillary and his extramarital affairs; and Dr. Karen Ruskin, a marital therapist, among many others. We get a picture of the Clintons as a business and political arrangement more than a functioning marriage, one that is anchored by Chelsea, and honestly, they make a somewhat strong argument for it; I mean after all, we’ve never had a husband and wife who could very well both be President of the United States, and it’s not unreasonable to consider than Hillary’s political career owes much to the success the more charismatic Bill has had. That being said, the long the 90-minute film goes on, the more we see that “Clinton, Inc.” is coming from a less balanced place as its filmmakers were hoping for. We get the whispers of connections between foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation with political “favors” while Hillary was Secretary of State. We get mention of the tragedy of Benghazi, without so much as an acknowledgment that multiple congressional investigations that have found no wrong-doing on Clinton’s part. And finally, we get a cameo from her justly-controversial use of a private email server, which admittedly was stupid on Secretary Clinton’s part. I wonder whether a lot of the criticism on the right came from not enough time spent on these and other “smoking guns” against Hillary. I can probably figure out a lot of the problems people on the left had with it.

The narration that is throughout “Clinton, Inc.” sets the tone. Like the people we hear from throughout the film, cynicism about the marriage of Bill and Hillary, and their motivations in their pursuit of public office, emanates from every word that is spoken, and the fact that they are constantly referred to as “Clinton Inc.” rather than just the “Clintons” shows the level of respect many of the people speaking in the film have for the two. One of the problems I had with “2016” was that I felt like it took a lot TO Obama in terms of figuring out the type of person he was, and made the assumption that change did not happen from the young man who wrote Dreams From My Father to the father and husband who became our 44th President. That same problem comes up here, especially in looking at Bill, and while there’s certainly more validity, I think, to this film’s judgements of Bill and his relationship to women than we saw from D’Souza on Obama, it gives off the impression that the primary reason Hillary has not left him over his many discretions over the years is more out of political necessity rather than genuine love and the emotional bonds of family. (Near the end, their love, which is admitted by everyone throughout, is said to “different” than what many people consider emotional love as.) It’s true that most women would have left someone like Bill long ago, and rightfully so, but that of a loving and forgiving wife doing what’s best for her family does not jive with the narrative of a calculated, power-hungry woman the right likes to portray Hillary as. In the end, “Clinton, Inc.” is a better film than “Hillary’s America” and “2016,” but ultimately in the same camp of political bias that hampers a lot of political documentaries and cinematic essays. Interesting? Yes, but it’s unlikely to change many minds. It did get me thinking, though, and that’s always a nice happening when political views I don’t share are presented to me in a smart way, as they admittedly are here.

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