The Last Campaign Movie Review

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Not many documentarians aside from Michael Apted get an opportunity like this. In 1972, Wayne Ewing made a documentary (If Elected...) about an upstart state senator from West Virginia named Warren McGraw, who was running for the first time for elected office. The southern firecracker never missed an opportunity to spew vitriol, and McGraw dutifully captured his angst and emotion as he scraped out a victory.

In 2004, Ewing caught up with McGraw again. Now a justice in the state Supreme Court, McGraw found himself besieged by Republican attack ads, funded by big money to the tune of several million dollars. McGraw could barely keep up, kept his campaign as positive as possible, but ultimately didn't pull through. Ewing captures the same set of events -- the primary (which he wins) and the election (which he loses), and shows us exactly how modern politics has changed over the last 30 years, entirely for the worse.

Older and tired, McGraw states that win or lose, this is his last campaign. It's easy to see why. He's surrounded by well-meaning family and friends, but no one can stem the crush of negative campaigning that assaults him at every turn. (In this particular election, more money was allegedly spent than in any other judiciary election in American history.) Everything comes to a head when a particular case that McGraw was involved in -- involving a young boy who molested even younger children -- was set free from prison. It appears to be the singular event that kills McGraw's hopes for victory, and yet both sides appear to contort and exaggerate the details of the case. (And yes, even I am too lazy to look it up myself.)

Ewing's film is insightful and unique, cutting between the present and excerpts from his 1972 movie to show us how things have changed. Sometimes it's hard to believe that these are the same person. What isn't hard to believe is how unbearable politics has become, and how demoralizing the whole process is. Ewing captures this all with aplomb -- though numerous crowd scenes are nearly inaudible and the film lacks substantial background needed to get a non-West Virginian up to speed. But perhaps best of all is the way The Last Campaign serves as a bookend, chronicling for the end of one man's career.

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The Last Campaign Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2005

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