Josh Wolk
December 22, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

Cinematic U.S. presidents tend to radiate a one-dimensional patriotic purity often missing from our own leaders of the free world. But this year, big-screen Commanders-in-Chief came complete with the same judgmental weaknesses and manipulative strengths associated with authentic pols. Portraying John F. Kennedy in Thirteen Days, which chronicles 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis, Greenwood asks not what history can do for him, but what he can do for history. He deftly channels the surface Kennedy — mastering the Brahmin ”err…ah” — but transcends imitation, capturing the angst of a man with the weight of the war of the world on his shoulders. Greenwood depicts a man battling for respect, public opinion, and his political future, often making very — dare we suggest — human errors along the way. As The Contender‘s gregarious President Jackson Evans, Bridges rarely wavers from a welcoming smile — even when he’s making veiled threats through a mouthful of shark sandwich. His backroom hardball is deceptively affable, hardly the Pollyanna politics of Michael Douglas’ American President or Kevin Kline’s Dave. It may not reflect our fantasies of what a President should be, but it accurately mirrors our slippery real-life candidates’ struggle for political survival.

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