Trump and the Art of Compromising Hardware
When the FBI raided Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, they found a folder titled “Info re: President of France.” Many have speculated (with little encouragement from Trump himself) that it contains illicit details about Emmanuel Macron’s sex life.
Whatever the truth about this particular cache, the political kompromat has long been a source of great drama – both on and off screen. Some get the better of themselves – Gary Hart ruined his chances of winning the US Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 by inviting reporters to dig up dirt on him (“Follow me everywhere, put a tail on me. You you would be very boring”). They did it quickly – and the events surrounding the 51-year-old married senator’s alleged alliance with 29-year-old Donna Rice are explored in 2018. The lead runnerwith Hugh Jackman as Hart.
The early 1960s was a particularly fertile time for films about blackmailing politicians over sexual indiscretions, possibly due to the Profumo affair in the UK and the gossip surrounding JFK’s shenanigans in the US. Here are ten of the best movies about collecting dirt on political opponents:
Kompromat (2022) – UK release to be confirmed
Taken from real life, this thriller by Jérôme Salle (Anthony Zimmer) with Gilles Lellouche (Don’t tell anyone) as Mathieu, a French diplomat stationed in Siberia whose support for artistic expression in the region angers authorities enough for Russian security services to concoct a false story of sexual abuse to frame him. Jailed before trial, the attaché decides to escape with his wife and daughter – a difficult decision given his location in the frozen Irkutsk Oblast in eastern Siberia. Lellouche will then play the role of Obélix in the fifth episode next year (Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom) in the Asterix action movie franchise. Guillaume Cannet (The headquarters of Jadotville) will direct and star as Asterix, with Vincent Cassel as Caesar and Marion Cotillard as Cleopatra.
Advice and Consent (1962)
The homosexual kompromat features as an important subplot in Otto Preminger (Laura) labyrinthine political drama centered on the nomination of Robert A. Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) as Secretary of State. There’s way too much intrigue to tell here but Advice and Consent
well worth your time. In addition to Fonda, the cast includes Charles Laughton in a magnificent end-screen performance, Walter Pidgeon, Gene Tierney, Franchot Tones (as the sick POTUS), Don Murray (as the blackmailed senator), Betty White and George Grizzard (wonder boys) as repellent career senator Fred Van Ackerman of Wyoming.
The best man (1964) – Amazon Buy Now
Gore Vidal’s evergreen play was memorably brought to the screen by Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton) in a play that follows the convolutions of the American political scene of the 1960s. The best man is unique in that both candidates are likely to be turned upside down: Henry Fonda (again) as former Secretary of State William Russell and Cliff Robertson as Joe Cantwell, a Joe McCarthy-like right-winger who can having a few gay skeletons in his wartime closet.
Seven days in May (1964)
Kompromat figures as a last resort in John Frankenheimer (Ronin) premonitory thriller. Discovering that the populist Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), is plotting a coup, President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) must decide to use the General’s letters against him. married to former mistress Eleanor Holbrook (Ava Gardner). . Pretty thin porridge, but the principled president fortunately has other options. An excellent image, which is worth the detour.
The opponent (2000) – Amazon Prime, Rent/Buy
A personal favorite, Rod Lurie (The last castle) The opponent is very much in the tradition of the three 1960s films I mentioned. Future Vice President Senator Laine Billings Hanson (Joan Allen) faces scandal when sordid footage of her apparent college participation in an initiation ritual is released. Billings refuses to confirm whether she was the woman in the photos, arguing that a male contestant would not be treated the same. Gary Oldman plays slimy Republican inquisitor Sheldon Runyon, who comes himself at the end. Jeff Bridges is excellent as Democratic Speaker Jackson Evans, as are Christian Slater as an ambitious but principled member of the House Judiciary and William Petersen (ITUC) as the deeply flawed governor of Virginia, who foolishly attempts a shortcut to national popularity.
defense of the kingdom (1986) – Amazon Buy Now
The late David Drury (hostile waters) underrated thriller boasts a gorgeous cast and a very plausible storyline for its time. Later, doubts surrounding Profumo’s resignation of respected MP Dennis Markham (Ian Bannen) prompted Nick Mullen (Gabriel Byrne), the reporter who published the story, to investigate further. Mullen uncovers a conspiracy surrounding US bases here and ultimate control of nuclear weapons in the UK. The cast also includes Greta Scacchi, the always superb Denholm Elliott and Robbie Coltrane in a supporting role.
Absolute power (1997) – Amazon Rent/Buy
Clint Eastwood’s pulpy adaptation of David Baldacci’s novel was never going to win an Oscar, but it’s a pleasantly silly watch. While hiding in a dressing room, aging master thief Luther Whitney (Eastwood) witnesses US President Alan Richmond (Gene Hackman) engaging in increasingly violent sex with his best friend’s wife (Melora Hardin), who is brought to an abrupt conclusion when the Secret Service shoots him. Whitney must decide whether to flee the country before her identity is discovered – or bring the President and his enablers to justice (sort of). The image features an unintentionally comedic scene where Whitney dresses up himself on a sweltering summer day to meet his daughter – wearing an oversized trench coat (buttoned all the way up), homburg hat and sunglasses of Sun. I guess his striped shirt and bag marked “Swag” were in the wash that day.
bank work (2008) – STARZPLAY, Amazon Rent/Buy
Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (What happened to the probable boys?, Porridge, Auf Wiedersehen Pet etc.) scripted this atypical Jason Statham thriller, which takes a highly fictionalized serio-comic approach to the notorious, unsolved 1971 Baker Street bank robbery. Kompromat features heavily, with loot from thieves including naughty footage of a senior royal performing and the secretly filmed antics of senior government officials in a high-end bawdy house.
State of play (2009) – Netflix, Amazon Rent/Buy
This condensed film version of Paul Abbott’s 2003 BBC1 miniseries is far too conspiratorial to tackle, but suffice it to say married Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) varied under pink the sex life and murder of his mistress leads journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) to dig deeper. Like with Syriac (2005), the Manchurian Candidate remake (2004) and other films from the era, the military-industrial complex and private security companies feature prominently in Cal’s reporting. Abbott famously wrote State of play without knowing how it would end, which becomes apparent upon second viewing of the much-loved original series. Last year, the writer confirmed he was working on a sequel to the series.
Gentlemen (2019) – Netflix, Amazon Rent/Buy
If you remember “The National Anthem”, the first episode of Charlie Brooker black mirrorby Guy Ritchie Gentlemen will bring back less fond memories. Not the antics of Hugh Grant’s creepy private investigator Fletcher, but the blackmail plot hatched to compromise politically influential editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan). I’ll leave it at that, because Big Dave’s pig encounter best not be revealed, certainly for those without a strong stomach. Suffice to say, (most) viewers won’t crave a bacon sarnie after watching the movie.
If you’re still craving kompromat-themed movies, you might want to check out The ides of March (2011), The lives of others (2006), The Ambassador (1984) and The Necklace Affair (2001).