The Plot Against America DVD Review: A Bland 'What If' Drama

HBO's miniseries offers an alternate glimpse of American during the 1940s and makes obvious comparisons to today's events.
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Based on Phillip Roth’s novel of the same name, David Simon’s adaptation of The Plot Against America takes a look at an alternate timeline of the country during the 1940s. It imagines what would have happened if aviator and political activist Charles Lindbergh ran for president and won over Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But Lindbergh is portrayed as radical and xenophobic, and his vision seems to be leaning more toward running the country like a dictator.

Does that sound familiar? It should. If you follow the news at all, the comparisons to the media's portrayal of President Trump and their constant panic about how he’s going to destroy America hit you across the head like a sledgehammer. While the miniseries is well made, capturing the time period feel perfectly in the wardrobe and music department, the dialogue comes off more like an annoying Twitter exchange rather than something well-crafted and intelligent.

The story follows a Jewish family in the 1940s, as Lindbergh becomes the surprising winner in 1940. This was pre-America’s involvement in World War II, and news broke that Hitler was taking over other countries. The father of the family, Herman Levin (Morgan Spector), is an insurance agent with a promising career. He’s also strongly opposed to Lindbergh and will pick fights with anyone who thinks differently than he does. For the majority of the series, he spends it arguing with people who think differently, listening to controversial radio host Walter Winchell, and then getting into more arguments with people. This includes his sister-in-law, Evelyn (Winona Ryder), who not-so-secretly becomes involved with Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro), a popular leader in the Jewish community and a staunch supporter of Lindburgh.

Herman becomes such an unlikable character that it’s difficult to sympathize with him when dramatic moments take place, and yet he and his family are the main focus of The Plot Against America. The alternate take on history would be more interesting if it wasn’t so obvious in taking one side of the aisle. There’s even a scene in which Lindbergh meets with Hitler and makes an agreement - which leads to more arguments. It becomes a tedious endeavor.

There are some positives that do come out of the miniseries. Outside of the aforementioned costume design and music choices, the camerawork is strong - with several scenes being captured in one single take. It’s a good-looking series that is obviously in the hands of professionals and doesn’t come across as amateurish. Turturro and Ryder are especially strong in their roles when their characters are present. The viewer can actually grow attached to them without feeling like they need to because the series is saying to do so.

The DVD release for The Plot Against America comes on a two-disc edition, with the first half of the series being on the first disc and the second on the second disc. The special features, which are also on the second disc, are bare. One is a behind-the-scenes look at the series, simply called Invitation to the Set. The second is titled Why Plot Now?, which has interviews with Simon and co-creator Ed Burns, as well as the cast, in which they discuss the decision to adapt the book into a miniseries right now.

As a fan of alternative history, it’s a pity that The Plot Against America comes off as something that would obviously come out in 2020. Simon and Burns take their expected jabs at current politics while re-imagining what the world would have looked like in the 1940s if a different president had succeeded Roosevelt. While it does look good, there’s not much tension that comes out of the series when everything that happens is predictable.

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