Warm Springs (2005) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG for some language
Running Time: 120 min.
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Cynthia Nixon, David Paymer, Tim Blake Nelson, Kathy Bates
Director: Joseph Sargent
Screenplay: Margaret Nagle
Review published November 11, 2005
Just because it's made for HBO, don't presume that this is an inferior movie. Quite the contrary, this is the kind of movie that, if it were released theatrically, would probably get released late in the year as a bid for Oscar contention. It's a biographical account of the years shortly before Franklin Delano Roosevelt would run for President of the United States, specifically in his dealings with being afflicted with polio. His inability to walk anymore physically led to his inability to run for office, at least mentally, but there was a glimmer of hope for him -- the warm mineral-rich springs of a spa and resort that some believe could rehabilitate polio victims.
Kenneth Branagh (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Rabbit-Proof Fence) delivers one of his best performances to date as FDR, a proud man that sees the sure-thing life he has always been groomed to have come to a grinding halt. Stubborn and ashamed, he pushes his family away, including his longsuffering wife, Eleanor (Nixon, "Sex and the City"), deciding he is going to try to do everything to get on his feet again out of the public spotlight. It doesn't take long for the media to catch on to what he's up to, and soon, Franklin becomes a post child for people with polio, and especially in the powers of the waters of Georgia in their role in helping people have a chance of recovery.
Despite being a made-for-cable movie, the production value is top-notch, as has been the trend for HBO films. In addition to Branagh, the supporting cast is excellent, with an especially strong performance by Cynthia Nixon in capturing the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, and her decisions to stand by her man despite being free to do as she pleases.
Warm Springs works better as a drama than as a historical reenactment of events. There are a few anachronisms and embellishments thrown in to make for a more compelling, cinematically appealing story. As directed by Joseph Sargent (Something the Lord Made, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three), this is a movie more for the heart than for the head, but it still is as convincing a tale of how a man overcame adversity and discrimination to be the one of the a great figures of the 20th Century, and the longest serving president in our history. As farfetched for a man without the ability to walk to become President is, so too is the probability that a made-for-cable film to be one of the year's best films. As Warm Springs shows, both prove triumphant.
©2005 Vince Leo