Jonathan Demme’s ( The Silence of the Lambs, Neil Young: Heart of Gold ) gushing, superficial portrait of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter offers neither a comprehensive picture of the man nor an informed analysis of the issues raised by the President’s contentious book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Following Carter around during his late-2006/early-2007 book tour promoting Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Man From Plains observes Carter as he fields reporters’ questions, talks about his beliefs, religious and political, and bumps up against Jewish protesters who assail his anti-Israel views and the questionable points raised in his book.
Therein lies the problem. Instead of challenging Carter on what he says or, more significantly, doesn’t say, Demme is content to simply let the camera roll. This approach, inadvertently on the filmmaker’s part, gives one a sense of an obtuse, oblivious man who simply won’t come clean when questioned on why he inserted the loaded word apartheid, which refers to South Africa’s past racial subjugation of its black populace, into the current discussion of the controversial Israeli-Palestinian equation. Carter’s answer that he was simply responding to Israel’s “colonization” of Palestinian lands is the worst sort of dissembling, since apartheid has come to mean only one thing to most people. So why use that offensive and inaccurate term except to sell books?
Demme also deals with the fracas surrounding former Executive Director Kenneth Stein’s resignation from The Carter Center public policy organization in protest over the book, but says not a word about the 14 others who resigned en masse soon after. Fifteen resignations, unlike the one that Carter dismisses so blithely, cannot be explained so easily.
As for Carter’s charitable work, religious devotion and strong family ties, including his 60-plus years of marriage to Rosalynn Carter, they’re barely glimpsed before Man From Plains returns once again to his book tour. Ironically, in creating this fan letter, Demme has reduced Carter’s many accomplishments and causes to just one—the least credible one, at that.
Distributor: Sony Classics
Cast: Jimmy Carter
Director: Jonathan Demme
Producers: Jonathan Demme and Neda Armian
Rating: PG for some thematic elements and brief disturbing images
Running time: 120 min.
Release date: October 26, 2007 NY/LA