This movie centers itself around a series of ten television debates in 1968 between William F. Buckley Jr., darling of the conservative right, and Gore Vidal, agent provocateur of the liberal left. It’s a great premise; you have two genuine titans here at a pivotal moment in history, debating each other in what is an obvious foreshadowing of today’s pundit culture. Both of these men are brilliant, strange & infuriating. Yes, it’s must-see TV, attempted by ABC because it had nothing to lose, being in desperate last place of the three networks at the time. When the film focuses on Buckley and Vidal and the actual broadcasts, it’s fun and interesting. The film, unfortunately, wants to broaden out and make a lot of serious points about the tumult in America in 1968, which everyone already knows about, and about the obnoxious nature of today’s argumentative news culture, which everyone most definitely already knows about. It’s only an hour-and-a-half, but the film feels meandering. I think there were a couple of things that might have made the film better. You could cut the film down and make a short out of the actual Buckley/Vidal content here; or you could just expand those sections by going deeper into the debates and still have a feature length film. It isn’t a bad film, but it’s not as good as it should have been. But when Buckley is towering over the screen, his ****-eating grin flashing, speaking in his weird cadence or Vidal is sardonically raising one eyebrow, barely suppressing a mocking smile and deadpanning a cutting insult, the film takes flight. Likewise, in the sequence set after the debates, as we follow Buckley and Vidal into their twilight years, the film definitely becomes melancholy and sad. It’s a film that is fun to watch, though you can get all the really good debate footage on YouTube, so that’s maybe the better way to go, given this film’s failure to really connect with its larger points. 2 ½ stars.
tl;dr – fiery television debates are the best part of this inconsistent film; and you can find them elsewhere, so think about that before you buy your ticket. 2 ½ stars.