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Running with Arnold
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by Laura Kyle

"Does more than scratch the surface, but not a whole lot more."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Arnold Schwarzenegger has a difficult-to-spell last name and a difficult-to-understand personality to go with it. He's a man people love to hate or hate to love but are always keen to laugh at – and the documentary about his campaign for governor of California won't really change that.

Schwarzenegger probably doesn't mind that people chuckle at his persona and probably doesn't even mind that Running with Arnold is a decidedly negatively biased expose on his life – after all, he's the one with millions of dollars and the last laugh. He's sure to deflect any criticisms with the charming gleam in his eye and a line from The Terminator anyways.

Running with Arnold begins in a small town in Austria, where Schwarzenegger was born to a police chief and a homemaker, and then gains momentum as it analyzes his metamorphosis from body builder to budding entrepreneur to action movie star to politician.

James Cameron asked Schwarzenegger to play his “claim-to-fame” role as the Terminator because the director already saw Schwarzenegger as a “machine." And it's hard to come to any other conclusion when Running with Arnold is over, because that's all we really get out of the documentary: a nobody who made an almost mechanical choice early on that he would become famous, make lots of money, and maybe even become the United States President eventually (the Constitution be damned). Schwarzenegger says much to that effect in interviews from his younger years, and that cocksure idealism is most certainly what won over enough Californians to welcome him to their state.

Running with Arnold is indeed a movie that portrays Schwarzenegger in a more than just questionable light – the politician/actor/body builder also has a reputation as an audacious playboy. Over a dozen women spoke up when he entered into politics, accusing him of sexual harassment. And that's not all, it's also implied that Schwarzenegger admired Adolf Hitler at one point.

Where Running with Arnold is truly revealing, however, is in its insights into the politics behind Schwarzenegger's run for office (which include the Enron energy scandal and the GOP at large, particularly President Bush and his administration). As well, director Dan Cox's comparison of Schwarzenegger's words with his actions, coupled with his flirtation-with-turned-fear-of the media, is utterly intriguing. This is where Running with Arnold really contributes to the popular knowledge of the current California governor.

Maybe Cox knows, however, that few Republicans or Schwarzenegger supporters will watch his movie. Because it's riddled with narration that essentially teases its subject and is content with painting him in broad strokes. In Running with Arnold, we see a man who can't take “no” for an answer (whether in business, entrainment or politics) and whose campaign to be governor is merely another step up the ladder toward fame and fortune. But that's because Cox overtly tells us this.

Running with Arnold is speckled with funny criticisms of Schwarzenegger and his posse, but those are dug up from comedians and other archived footage and really amount to fluff. For a film that's guided by such opinionated voice-over and commentary, it seems it could have been accompanied by a more straightforward investigative feel with plenty of hard facts to go around – thus giving it more authority. Because while everything Cox says may very well be true, he undermines it by saying it with confidence instead of context. And thus Running with Arnold won't convince Schwarzenegger's fans to rethink their affections and won't add a lot to most people's understanding of his rise to power.

"Running for Arnold" is geared toward an audience who will nod their heads in agreement from the get-go and if its members pay attention to the documentary's fascinating details, it won't be a waste of time. But it's a shame that Schwarzenegger is oversimplified here. Because "Running with Arnold" is not an action movie or press conference – it's a documentary – and I was hoping for a little more in-depth look at the human being inside the machine. All I ended up getting was a reaffirmation that politics is corrupt and mere celebrity can get you elected to office.

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originally posted: 03/11/07 05:18:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

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