Arts Desk

AFI Docs: Caucus, Reviewed

If there’s a whiff of desperation in all things political, Caucus—AJ Schnack's documentary chronicling the behind-the-scenes machinations of the 2012 Iowa Caucus—reeks of failed ambition and boundless folly. For anyone who has forgotten the high drama of last year’s Republican presidential field (how is that possible?), a brief refresher: $10,000 bets, peculiar pronunciations of "nominee," and Big Bird’s cozy relationship with Big Government.

There are a few genuinely surprising moments within Caucus' lengthy 104-minute running time—Rick Perry’s encounter with a World War II veteran is quite touching—but the film struggles to milk drama from a story whose ending is likely etched in the viewer's memory. And despite the candor of its backstage access, the film has little new to say about a cast of characters whose good fortunes oscillated at breakneck speed.

Here, Rick Santorum comes across as smug and self-satisfied whereas Michelle Bachmann's ambition far outweighs her grasp of the issues. Newt Gingrich looks like a pompous bully. If these descriptions sound familiar—and they should—it is because they were the same characteristics the American public was bombarded with a mere 18 months ago. For a film populated with candidates focused on the issues important to everyday Americans, Caucus largely appeals to one of the most maligned of all audiences: Washington insiders.

The film shows Saturday June 22 at 8 p.m. at the National Portrait Gallery.

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