The Congressman

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Congressman Movie Poster Image
So-so political drama has lots of strong language.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 98 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Free speech means the freedom to express unpopular opinions, and the freedom to express no opinion at all. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance isn't an accurate demonstration of loyalty or love of country; you don't have to recite it to prove your loyalty. Being an American gives you the right not to be bullied into proving your loyalty the way others say you should. Eating at large seafood chain restaurants perpetuates tremendous destruction on other forms of sea life. Large, greedy corporations have overfished, and now there's hardly anything left; small family fisheries can't earn a living any more. Brief, vague mention of a coming political "ice age" in which people are afraid to express dissent or to criticize, and are too quick to demonize those they disagree with or don't understand.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Senator Winship is a good role model for standing up for your beliefs and for your personal freedoms. He's jaded and disenchanted with politics after many years in Congress, but originally ran for office because he wanted to make a difference. He makes himself available to his constituents, and when he's made aware of a problem, he investigates it fully and does what he can to help. His aide makes a serious mistake driven by ambition and fear, but he confesses, apologizes, and tries to correct the problem. Winship's secretary is a good African-American role model for women; she's whip-smart, super-efficient, and keeps things running. Brief modeling of intimate but platonic male friendship. 

Violence

A gun is fired to intimidate. Newsreel footage vaguely shows Vietnam-era protestors being beaten by police. A couple of hard elbows to the face in a basketball game; one breaks a nose and shows a lot of blood on the face. A minor character's past abuse mentioned. An explosion is heard and a boat burns in the distance.

Sex

A bad guy promises he can "get you all the head you want" in exchange for political favors. Played for comedy, mention that kids in school are being taught how to have sex with animals and a model of a penis is waved around and gestured with. Whether someone is gay is discussed, just because she's large and "mannish." A few kisses, some discussion between adults about whether to spend the night together. A man in a bathtub, no sensitive parts shown. A couple instances of objectifying and sexualizing women when it's assumed a former frat boy bragged to his fellows every time he had sex with a virgin, and when a congressman says he falls for traps baited with "p---y."

Language

"Hell," "f--k," "son of a bitch," "damn," "goddamn," "p---y," "s--t," "bastards," "bulls--t," "sucked," "bitch," "ass," and "Jesus Christ" as exclamation. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character drinks from a flask during the day; brief discussion that his problem with alcohol is getting worse. Adults drink wine, beer, and hard liquor mostly in moderation and at appropriate times, but once to excess with slightly drunken behavior exhibited and no other consequences shown, and occasionally at inappropriate times like during the day or while working on a lobster boat. Brief mention of a congressional witch hunt over drug use.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Congressman is a political drama with positive messages about our rights as Americans to express ourselves, or not, in any way we choose, and to not let ourselves be bullied into believing we have to follow what others say about how we express our loyalty and love of country. Negative messages include some brief sexual objectification of women that's glossed over, and also about over-fishing the oceans and its effect on small fishing communities. Lots of strong language including "f--k," "s--t," and variations, as well as one use of "p---y." Sexual content includes one scene played for comedy that prominently shows a model of a penis. Rare violence shows police beating protesters in old newsreel footage and a bloody face after some elbowing in a basketball game. Some drinking throughout.

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What's the story?

Charlie Winship (Treat Williams) has been THE CONGRESSMAN from Maine for a long time, but recently he's begun to feel jaded. He doesn't seem to be making a difference anymore; nowadays it's just about crunching numbers instead of helping people. He comes under serious fire when a political rival reveals that he doesn't stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance along with the rest of the Congress each morning. But as that controversy heats up into expulsion hearings about his conduct, Winship is called to a remote island off the Maine coast to investigate how a small fishing community is facing threats and intimidation from large fishing corporations. As both issues come to a boil, Winship will have to weather betrayal while being called a traitor and worse in the national media. It might be time for him to retire, but if he does, who will continue to fight the good fight?

Is it any good?

Despite a strong performance from Hollywood veteran Treat Williams, this political drama tries to take on too much and falters as it fails to knit the various plot threads together cohesively. Instead of an in-depth exploration of freedom of expression and the freedom not to have to express anything, or an in-depth look at the fishing industry and its impact on the oceans and on small fishing communities, we get a shallow, half-look at each. Williams is ably supported by a solid cast drawn mostly from TV, but the only one who really shines (and very briefly) is George Hamilton as the smarmy congressman-turned-lobbyist.

Teens who can handle the strong language will no doubt learn a lot about the history of the Pledge, and about the damage over-fishing is doing to our oceans, but the slow pace and focus on older characters may prevent them from making it all the way to the (predictable) end.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about all the profanity in The Congressman. Is it realistic, or necessary? What would the movie be like without it?

  • Do you think Congressman Winship should have stood and recited the Pledge? Why or why not? Why do you think he led the Pledge when visiting the school?

  • Is the history that the movie tells about the Pledge of Allegiance accurate? Look it up online or in your library. Does knowing the history change your thinking about it? How?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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