(director: Dawn Porter; cinematographers: Clair Popkin/Keith Walker; editor: Jessica Congdon; music: Marco Beltrami/Brandon Roberts/Buck Sanders; cast: Pete Souza, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Michelle Obama, LBJ, Hillary Clinton; Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Evan Hayes/Laura Dern/Dawn Porter/Jayme Lemons; Focus Features; 2020)

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dawn Porter (“Trapped”/”
John Lewis: Good Trouble”) directs this engaging but uncritical film about Pete Souza, who was the White House photographer for both President Reagan and President Obama. The photographer is a ‘behind the scenes man,’ who liked working for the Reagans though not sharing their political views and was thrilled working for the Obamas. He felt Obama respected the office, was thoughtful, never avoided hearing different opinions, hired a diverse staff and was a real person who was always empathetic with the American people.

The film traces how Pete moved up the ladder quickly as a photo journalist, going from a small rural newspaper in Kansas to a big city paper in Chicago, and then working for the loving family man President Reagan from 1983-1989. After returning to be a photo-journalist again when his stint as a historical photographer with Reagan was over, he was assigned by his paper, the Chicago Tribune, to follow the promising newcomer Senator Obama. When Obama became president, Pete became again
the official White House photographer. With a wide access to the president, he delivered such iconic unposed shots of Obama having fun playing with his girls in the snow in the Rose Garden and many shots in deep thought as he made tough decisions such as sending thirty thousand more troops to Afghanistan, trying to deal with the difficult political situation in Syria, saving the auto industry by having the government take over a few of its giant companies that were failing so they won’t go out of business, getting his Obamacare passed in a hostile environment, approving the plan that killed Osama bin Laden and watching the execution of it, feeling the pain of the Sandy Hook massacre and visiting the parents of the 20 elementary students slain to share the grief of the families. Pete showed an appreciation for the way Reagan always acted professional and respected the office, while he simply gushed over Obama and openly showed he was the president he admired most.

After Obama’s two terms ended, Pete found the behavior of the new president completely wrong and plain crazy: filled with bigotry, divisiveness, intolerance, ineptitude, leading like a mob boss over a corrupt administration and with Trump acting more like a fascist dictator than an American president. He felt Trump was not fit for an office he disrespected.

This forced Pete out in the open to use his oversized coffee table book of the Obamas (shown first on Instagram) to show how normal, gifted and human Obama was as president in contrast to how abnormal, hateful, psychologically unhinged and evil and stupid was the abominable Trump. Maybe those who favor Trump would disagree, but it all seems factual. By pointing out that “A picture is worth a thousand words” the photographer uses his pictures to show the difference between presidents. He tells you that “You can bet if Obama was handling this covid crisis we wouldn’t be is such a fix as we are now.”

To see the differences between the presidents through the photos makes for a politically biased film, but an interesting and entertaining one.

The Way I See It

REVIEWED ON 10/19/2020  GRADE: A –