Kevin Spacey is like everyone's favorite uncle. You see him, and you just want to give him a hug. He exudes sincerity and decency; maybe that's why we love to see him in films that take on social and political issues. The roles he chooses function as a kind of everyman social conscience for America. Even if he doesn't always play an admirable figure, his mere presence seems to guarantee a certain degree of thoughtful engagement with the problems of our time. If the idea of watching Kevin Spacey in an intelligent drama gives you a special kind of thrill, this buzzlist of Top 5 Kevin Spacey Social Dramas is for you:
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) – As John Williamson, the long-suffering office manager for a team of unscrupulous real estate salesmen, Spacey plays arguably the one decent man in a morass of lies, misdirections, and predatory behavior. David Mamet's screenplay of his own stage production uses a microcosm of ten-or-so characters to represent the hollow heart of capitalism in an intense and frenetic way. These men have chosen a life in which they are forced to follow their worst instincts, and Spacey provides an essential foil to their callous machinations.
The Life of David Gale (2003) – In director Alan Parker's final film (unless he comes out of retirement to make another), Spacey plays activist professor David Gale, an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. After Gale ends up on death row himself for the murder of fellow activist Constance Harraway (Laura Linney), reporter Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) starts to look into the case. What she finds is that things are far more complicated than anyone could have suspected. As layers are peeled back, they reveal a remarkably humane and moving story.
Recount (2008) – From writer Danny Strong and director Jay Roach, this survey of events following the 2000 United States presidential election provides a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes machinations that ended up handing victory to George W. Bush despite Al Gore having won the popular vote. Spacey plays Gore's chief of staff Ron Klain as a wounded idealist trying to convince his candidate to fight the good fight despite increasingly long odds. His heartfelt performance turns this potentially dry story into an emotional roller-coaster.
Casino Jack (2010) – The rise and fall of super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff shows us a man in love with the idea of power. Spacey's Abramoff isn't necessarily a bad person; he's a man too able to convince himself and those around him of his own good intentions. Without a clearly defined sense of morality, he eventually falls prey to the lures of wealth, fame, and self-gratification. Spacey's achievement is to show us the relatively normal man behind the myth, and to caution us that one doesn't have to be a villain to end up doing wicked things in a world that celebrates corruption.
Margin Call (2011) – Margin Call focuses on the diverse viewpoints at an investment bank fighting to survive on the eve of the recent global financial meltdown. Spacey gives the film its heart; his character Sam Rogers doesn't start out as the most sensitive or sympathetic, but he questions the firm's decisions more than anyone else does, and he ultimately takes their implications the hardest. The final scene is a highly-concentrated dose of everything we love about Kevin Spacey: he makes the leap from abstract calamity to one man's individual pain with dizzying dexterity.
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