JIMMY CARTER MAN FROM PLAINS (Jonathan Demme). 120 minute. Opens Friday (November 9). Rating: NNN
While Jimmy Carter‘s presidency will likely end up a footnote in American history, jammed between Gerald Ford’s Vietnam War-ending tenure and Ronald Reagan’s Cold War closer, his “involuntary retirement” (his words) as commander-in-chief proved the launching pad for a bigger and better career, from the founding of the Carter Center to winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
More recently, the simple country gentleman from Plains, Georgia, has become a bestselling and hugely controversial author.
Anyone expecting a straightforward biography of the 39th president will be disappointed. Yes, here’s Carter at home in Georgia with his wife of 61 years, Rosalynn, and there are a few brief glimpses of his time in the White House, notably his negotiation of an historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. Carter visits India and Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, helping build houses for Habitat for Humanity.
But the bulk of this fly-on-the-wall doc follows Carter’s 2006 book tour to promote Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which has provoked accusations of lying, plagiarism, bigotry and anti-Semitism.
Through it all, Carter faces his detractors head-on and before the cameras, and director Jonathan Demme (The Silence Of The Lambs, The Agronomist) smartly lets it all unfold without amping up the already tense debate with Michael Moore-style antics.
The surprising thing, though, is that the media machinations involved in such a politicized tour – negotiations to appear on Israeli TV or Al Jazeera versus a fluffy stop on Jay Leno with Ed Norton – are revealed more clearly than is Carter’s character, which comes across as just a bit too unimpeachable.