Folk music is usually proudly lefty, which is why Tim Robbins’ satire about a conservative politician who harnesses folk’s populism for right-wing purposes is so funny and jarring. Robbins, himself the son of Greenwich Village folkie Gil Robbins (who was a member of the Highwaymen and a onetime manager of the Gaslight, the folk venue where much of Inside Llewyn Davis takes place), made his screenwriting and directing debut with this mockumentary, which echoes both This Is Spinal Tap and Don’t Look Back. He also stars as the title senatorial candidate, whose guitar and platitudes serve as shields, deflecting liberal criticism and making him seem like Ronald Reagan’s gently-strumming nephew.
The gimmick makes him a media darling (the film has even more contempt for the media than it does for politicians), and against such a bizarre figure, old-school patrician liberal incumbent Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal, channeling Ted Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan) has no defense. Though there’s an investigative reporter (Giancarlo Esposito) trailing him, it’s seldom clear whether Bob Roberts is sincere or is just using folk as shtick to hide a darker purpose – and in the end, it doesn’t even matter. In an age of politics trivialized as entertainment, Bob Roberts is a trailblazer.
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