Ben Affleck‘s Argo hit theaters today, and word on it is that it’s all that and a bag of chips. Could it be? Could this 21st century political thriller about smuggling Americans out of Iran join the greats like All The President’s Men, The Battle Of Algiers and The Manchurian Candidate? You’ll be the judge of that. For now, we’ve put together a list of the 10 Best Political Thrillers in Cinema.
10. Zwartboek (Black Book)
Black Book had to be on this list for the simple reason that it’s got a bad ass lady infiltrating the German ranks as a Jewish spy. Very few political thrillers feature a prominent female lead, and if they do, they tend to be a romantic interest. Black Book defies that standard. Directed by Basic Instinct‘s Paul Verhoeven, this film is based on true-life events that occurred during WWII involving the Dutch and the Germans. The film was dubbed after a book that contained the names of traitors who worked with and for the Nazi government and against the resistance army. Black Book is a complicated film that follows a long timeline, but every minute of it is filled with suspense and great performances. Verhoeven doesn’t hold back on anything and delivers the goods.
9. The Lives Of Others
The Lives Of Others took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2006, succeeding over Guillermo Del Toro‘s Pan’s Labyrinth. Like the best political thrillers, this one too stems from actual happenings that occurred in history. The film is set in East Germany, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the secret police was in full-force. At the center of the story is famed playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his wife, actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), who are suspected of being disloyal to their government, and thus put under the surveillance of Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe). The Lives Of Others is a carefully and delicately crafted film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It’s a fascinating piece of work that’s rich with emotion and suspense.
Sidney Lumet‘s thriller Fail-Safe is based on a novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, about an accidental nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Despite enlisting an all-star cast that included Henry Fonda, Dan O’Herlihy, Walter Matthau and Frank Overton, Lumet made Fail-Safe on a shoestring budget. He shot the film in black and white and used no score or soundtrack. Upon its release, this movie was overshadowed by the satirical comedy Dr. Strangelove, but later was recognized as one of the best Cold War thrillers… with good reason.
Oliver Stone‘s JFK managed to be one of the better (and overall best) political thrillers of its time. The genre’s films that were being made at the time didn’t dig deep enough and were often more about romance than politics. But JFK went above and beyond. Stone’s unique style of cinematography, cutting, sound, flashbacks and newsreel footage all contribute to the greatness of this film. Part of JFK‘s appeal was that it wasn’t actually a true story, but was rooted in the actual events surrounding the assassination of president John F. Kennedy. The film is an experiment that spurred a lot of controversy in the media for being so open-ended. What Stone accomplished was truly fascinating.
6. The Day Of The Jackal
Based on a novel by Frederick Forsyth, Fred Zinnemann‘s The Day of the Jackal expresses how careless a society can be to political conspiracy. In the film, political members hire an assassin called “the Jackal” to kill the French leader Charles de Gaulle. Jackal has a foreseeable ending, but Zinnemann’s attention to detail is gripping and exciting.
5. The Parallax View
The Parallax View is a dark and chilling account of a journalist named Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) who misses the assassination of a Kennedy-type presidential candidate, only to later realize that the killing is a lie and cover-up. There’s a lot of parallels between Parallax and The Manchurian Candidate (also on this list), from the solemn military-style music by Michael Small to its satirical tone. Parallax was made during the “golden age of American political thrillers” and Alan J. Pakula‘s film was definitely at the forefront of it.
4. The Manchurian Candidate
The Manchurian Candidate isn’t just a great political thriller. John Frankenheimer‘s film is considered one of the greatest American movies ever. Thanks to a witty and sophisticated screenplay by George Axelrod, and a powerhouse cast that included Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Henry Silva and James Gregory, this movie is often regarded as the original and best political thriller in cinematic history. The Manchurian Candidate was the first of its kind. The film was done in 1962, and based on a novel published by Richard Condon in 1959, but still feels like a timeless movie that came way ahead of its time.
Costa-Gavras’ Z tells the story of a political assassination in some vague European country. The movie opens with the country’s political and military leaders who are gathered to plan the murder of Yves Montand, a leader of the opposition. There’s a disclaimer at the beginning of the film that states that “Any resemblance to real events, to persons dead or living, is not accidental. It is intentional.” This is because Z is the fictionalized account of the real events surrounding the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. Through its dark humor, terrific acting and a documentary style approach, Z captures the scandal of what actually happened.
2. All The President’s Men
The best kind of political thrillers are the ones that are based on a true story. Have we established that? There’s just a feeling of authenticity that fiction-based thrillers don’t seem to have. Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men is based on fact, and tells the story of two inexperienced Washington Post reporters who uncover the Watergate scandal. The whole movie is a thrilling tale of how two nobodies took down the most powerful man on earth – Richard Nixon.
1. The Battle Of Algiers
How does one even begin to describe The Battle of Algiers? Gillo Pontecorvo recreated the guerrilla battle between native Algerians and the French forces that took up their land during their fight for independence in the late 1950s. The Italian director peppered his movie with non-actors and used a cinema verite approach to give it an authentic feeling. The film takes you into the Casbah as the events of the Algerian revolution unfold. The violence is gruesome, the acting is honest, and the direction is powerful. The Battle of Algiers is a work of art that genuinely captures the horrors of a revolution.
Which are your favorite political thrillers? Any we missed?