Hollywood isn’t exactly know for its non partisan approach to politics. More often than not the films emanating from tinseltown adhere to a familiar liberal left orthodoxy. But if you look closely, there are a handful of classics with a more libertarian bent that have somehow slipped through the proverbial net:
Dallas Buyers Club, 2013
If the drug that could save your life was on the other side of the border, but it was banned by governmental regulation, would you smuggle it over? That’s the dilemma faced by cowboy Ron Woodroof (an emaciated Matthew McConaughey) in this critique of AIDS treatment in the mid-80s.
After being refused experimental treatments by American hospitals, not only does Woodroof smuggle it in for himself, but he defies the FDA to bring it in to sell to others suffering from AIDS. A true anti-government pro-free market tale, the two leads also both won Oscars for their roles (back when the award almost meant something).
Fight Club, 1999
For the last twenty-one years, fighting over whether Fight Club is a right- or left-wing film has been a favourite topic of cinephiles, fans of Joe Rogan, and just about every slightly pissed university student. I’d say it’s a bit of both, showing a caricature of the alienated right, but also understanding why they become the way they are.
It sees its white male protagonist struggle in an increasingly feminized and anti-masculine world, attempting to fight back against rampant consumerism and the corruption of city life. Relief is only found by escaping to a base form of masculinity and starting a cooperative of men who also feel lost. In the process they knock each other’s teeth out, pee in posh restaurants’ soup, and blow stuff up.
Gran Torino, 2008
It’s very easy to add a slew of Clint Eastwood’s films (the same goes for Mel Gibson, and nearly any film made before 1980) to a list of conservative films, but Gran Torino is one of the best, and more explicitly libertarian in its approach. Grizzled Korea vet Walt Kowalski treasures his peace and his 1972 Ford Gran Torino, but when Walt’s new Hmong American neighbour is made to steal the car as part of a gang initiation, Walt’s inner soldier is rudely awoken.
Initially racist and sceptical of the family next door, he begins to recognize that they are in fact more in tune with his own social values than his actual family are and pulls no punches in his attempts to reform the family’s unruly son.
The Hunt, 2020
When the trailer for this film first came out, it was swiftly denounced by conservatives (including Trump) as an anti-conservative fantasy in which ‘deplorables’ and ‘right-wingers’ were hunted by rich woke liberals for entertainment. The reality was that the conservatives had used the liberal playbook and jumped the gun on their criticism.
The Hunt takes a South Park-like attitude, ridiculing both sides’ pretensions and satirising the extent of political division in America. One of the hunted calls a group of immigrants he meets while trying to escape on a train ‘crisis actors’, only for it to turn out he’s half-right, as one of them is one of the hunters. Another of the hunted realizes she’s being set up when the service station staff claim they’re in Arkansas, but then charge the wrong price for a pack of cigarettes. Nothing is what it seems, and it’s a wild but fun ride.
The Lives of Others, 2006
When The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) came out in 2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s feature film debut was rightly praised – and won an Oscar – for its grim portrait of doomed love and treachery in the dog days of Stasi-run East Germany. ‘Never again,’ audiences smugly congratulated themselves. Then 2020 arrived and, in an orgy of snitching, snooping and the kind of rampant authoritarianism that would have made even Erich Honecker blush, many of us quickly forgot that idle promise – and made the film’s warning more powerful and prescient than ever.
In the world of Gattaca, your life is all but pre-determined. Your genetic code profiles you as fit for only a certain number of jobs, and there’s no hope of escaping the status you’re assigned. Vincent (Ethan Hawke) is one of the last people born naturally and doesn’t see why he should be precluded from the life he wants on the basis of government-mandated compatibility tests. He borrows the genetic identity of now-disabled swimmer Jerome (Jude Law), and, refusing to accept his lot, bucks the system in his desire to become an astronaut, becoming one on his own merit and in spite of the system that tells him it’s impossible.
The film also has one of the smartest titles around, with the name created from the letters of the four main bases in DNA (Guanine – G, Adenine – A, Thymine – T, and Cytosine – C).
In an attempt to save the planet from global warming, a modern tech mogul plans to force the majority of the population to kill each other, leaving a select few celebrities to survive and re-inhabit Earth. It reads like the script of a conspiracy podcast yet is the storyline of ultra-successful decidedly not-Bond film Kingsman. The Guardian called it ‘a throwback in the worst manner’ – a ringing endorsement if ever I heard one. Its tone is distinctly populist, and a deserved bite on Hollywood’s worthy bottom.