Blooper Reel: Adam McKay’s SHUTDOWN is First-Class Satire

Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures (2019)

Authored by Burnt Orange and Mr. Sculpin

Mr. Sculpin and I were lucky enough to get a sneak peek of Adam McKay’s upcoming passion project, SHUTDOWN, and I’m pleased to announce that it’s a f***ing masterpiece. Trumpsters beware – McKay is back with a vengeance! Spoilers to follow.

From the first moment, we know we’re in for a treat. Eiza González (Darling from Baby Driver) gives an opening monologue about the nature of power and insecurity. We cut to her walking through the halls of Congress as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: her sparkling 70s jumpsuit contrasts perfectly with the bleak, relentless atria. She ducks into one office after another, throwing papers wildly at Senators and representatives. One by one they storm the hallway with her, the backbone of a new uprising.

Cut to the opening titles. McKay is a master of comic editing, and I nearly lost my sh*t during this scene. It’s almost identical to the opening of The Apprentice (the show Trump once hosted), with the song For the Love of Money playing. Now, in the show, this sequence had footage of Trump on Wall Street intercut with each of the candidates. But McKay splices together the blubbering Trump (played by Alec Baldwin) with footage of various politicians. Pelosi, Schumer, Graham, McConnell, etc. It’s an uproariously disturbing reminder that Trump views this incident as one big reality show.

McKay’s penchant for profound satire is electric, and he doesn’t lose momentum after the introduction. We see Christopher Walken as Chuck Schumer, staring down a whimpering Mitch McConnell (played by himself – Walken’s portrayal was so accurate that McConnell thought the exchange was real).

We’re also treated to George Clooney as Jim Acosta, who stealthily prowls about Capitol Hill with all the verve and tenacity of Jason Bourne. And there’s no forgetting Jon Voight as a snarling Lindsey Graham, who storms into the House of Representatives with a 4ft gavel, slams it on everyone’s desks, and screams, “MR. PRESIDENT, BUILD THIS DAMN WALL!!”

But McKay truly knows how to anchor the severity of the gravitas with emotionally resonant mise-en-scène. I nearly bawled my eyes out when Nancy Pelosi (played by Frances McDormand) holds a crying Mexican baby while visiting a detention facility, a single tear rolling down her cheek. McKay proves to master this poignant imagery with an onslaught of even more powerful visuals, such as an army of Texas hillbillies burning down National Parks, or dozens of mid-air collisions as Air Traffic Controllers quiver from starvation in their tower at LAX.

But this mastery of cinematography would all be in vain if it weren’t for his expertise in clarifying the complex politics behind the 2018-19 Government Shutdown. Thankfully, McKay does so with hard-focused vivacity. I am thankful to now know that the REAL reason President Trump refused to re-open the Government was because he wanted the White House kitchen staff furloughed so he could replace them with Wendy’s and McDonald’s catering. I seethed in anger as Trump spilled a burger on his suit, attempted to eat another, then finally gave up and ordered three Pizzas, stewing in a ketchup-laden mess.

Adam McKay shows us the ultimate travesty of the 21st Century

Say what you will about the shutdown – you can’t deny that McKay is sensitive to the 800,000 furloughed American workers who lost everything during that tragic 35-day disaster: the longest shutdown in American history. Trump may see this shutdown as a game, but McKay sees the human element, the suffering, the gravitas. It’s this perpetual tension of shock humor and everyday suffering that makes SHUTDOWN his most provocative work to date, and also his most profoundly human.