Why Movie President should be given his chance to shine.

Abraham Lincoln was good in a crisis. He knew a thing or two about delivering a memorable speech and as nicknames go The Great Emancipator isn’t too shabby. This summer’s glossy studio movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (left) would have us believe he then spent his free time scrapping with the undead. Well, I suppose everyone needs a hobby.

The Americans enjoy seeing their Movie President as an action hero. Hell, we all lapped up Bill Pullman’s President falling back on his pilot training to save the world in Independence Day, and Harrison Ford fell back on his, um, pilot training to save Air Force One from Gary Oldman’s evil Russian accent.

Of course, the majority of Movie Presidents are peripheral characters in everything from The Rock and Armageddon through to the X-Men and National Treasure franchises. These guys are all the same: nameless middle-aged men doomed to stare philosophically into the middle distance while they ponder the repercussions of A Truly Awful Decision, advised by solemn aides with bowed heads whose catchphrase seems to be: Sir, It’s Time. Can they really afford to give the brave, yet generic hero two more extra minutes before authorising a lethal airstrike on The Innocent?

I have a theory. Bill Pullman and Harrison Ford may have been great at kicking ass in the sky, but they were probably rubbish at everything else. Pullman – or President Thomas Whitmore, to give him his movie moniker – is a single parent with a dead Vice President by the second half of Independence Day. Yet he still thinks it’s an ace idea to personally take on a bunch of malevolent aliens in a plane he hasn’t flown for years with an alcoholic crop duster for a wingman. There’s a man with questionable judgement.

No, I reckon the generic Movie President is the unsung hero of Hollywood, providing solemn, if brief, Buck Stops Here counsel when the blue-collar action hero finally gets through to him on his low-battery cell phone (and yes, it’s a ‘cell’ phone – we’re in America-land here, folks!).

So, how about Movie President takes over for a bit in the real world to reassure America in these Troubled Times? I can imagine the press conference to introduce the new Commander-in-Chief. A jam-packed White House press room would be assembled. The noble-looking middle-aged man will walk solemnly to the podium and turn his broad shoulders to face the cameras:

I am Movie President and I’ll be taking over this White House in these Troubled Times. I’m not going to tell you my name – it generally won’t be important – but you can call me President Stoic, President Quiet Confidence, President Reassuring, or plain old Sir.

I’ll be playing down the political angle for the foreseeable future. In fact, I’m not even going to tell you what party I belong to! I’m here to unify audiences, not politicise them.

Instead, I’ll be focussing on the really important things. For instance, my square jaw – don’t you find it strong and masculine? I’m good-looking in a bland sort of way and while I don’t have enough screen time to develop a real personality, I’m sure you’ll find that my salt-and-pepper hairline and ability to justify those Truly Awful Decisions with a few poetic words will always be comforting to the American people in their hour of need.

My schedule for the foreseeable future is as follows; lots of driving around. We’ll be using those big black people carriers with the flashing lights and probably driving past a lot of Washington landmarks. It’ll all be at night, obviously, so the lights will be prettier and more striking. We’ll be followed by helicopters a lot of the time just to make sure the gravity of the impending crises is adequately conveyed. That is all.

Just as quickly as he arrived he’ll disappear back into the murky corridors of power, leaving the generic action hero to smack danger in the face. For that’s the way of Movie President; quiet nobility, understated resolve and the wizened, anonymous face of an ageing actor who’s never been famous.

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Nick Goundry
I'm a film journalist and comedy writer. Career highlights so far? Shaking Werner Herzog's hand, disrupting a David Cronenberg interview with an antique Dictaphone and getting chased by the Western Norway Film Commission in a speedboat. I also run the daily news blog at location filming specialist The Location Guide. Drop me a line at nick.goundry@gmail.com.