‘Seven Days in May’
The characters in this jittery 1964 thriller are fictional, but the situation — particularly of late — feels all too real. Kirk Douglas plays a Marine colonel who suspects that a hawkish Air Force general (Burt Lancaster) is organizing a coup against a pacifist president (Frederic March). The director John Frankenheimer (who two years earlier made the similarly pulse-pounding “The Manchurian Candidate”) and the screenwriter Rod Serling adapt a novel by Charles W. Bailey II and Fletcher Knebel into an offbeat war movie, where the soldiers fight in boardrooms instead of battlefields, attacking using clandestine meetings and phone calls.
‘All the President’s Men’
Richard Nixon is at the center of this newspaper drama, even though he mostly stays offscreen. Based on Carl Bernstein’s and Bob Woodward’s account of how they investigated the Watergate scandal for The Washington Post, this film conveys the day-to-day business of gossip, leaks and social networking in the nation’s capital. But it’s also a rousing story about how citizens and journalists can serve as a check on the executive branch, whenever presidents and their staff start imperiously ignoring or bulldozing over federal laws.
One big appeal of movies about presidents is the chance to see how the leader of the free world lives. In this 1993 comedy “Dave,” Kevin Kline plays an ordinary guy who looks just like the president. When the White House staff asks him to pose as POTUS while the real one recovers from a stroke, Dave soon finds himself embroiled in a plot involving scandal, chicanery and romance. What makes this picture so delightful is Kline’s endearingly upbeat performance as someone who genuinely enjoys the privileges of the presidency — from the perks of the White House to the power to improve people’s lives.
‘The American President’
The screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has a knack for creating charismatic and inspiring politicians, as seen in his hit TV series, “The West Wing.” In this 1995 romantic drama, Michael Douglas plays the title character, a Bill Clinton-like centrist Democrat prone to push for popular legislation rather than taking controversial stands. Sorkin’s story (directed by Rob Reiner) is mostly about the widowed president’s love affair with an environmental lobbyist played by Annette Bening. But the movie also imagines an idealized Washington, where the right speech at the right time can change minds and perhaps save a nation.