THE BIG BUY: TOM DELAY'S STOLEN CONGRESS

NR

-By Eric Monder


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Director-producers Mark Birnbaum and Jim Shermbeck take a decidedly anti-DeLay point of view from the outset-but it is not without warrant. In fact, DeLay damns himself more than the filmmakers ever could in a news clip from 1994 (the year the Republicans took over both houses of congress), shown at the beginning of the documentary, in which he gleefully talks about his scheme to abolish a host of government programs and departments, including the Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts, while building up the country's already bloated military budget. The Texas native might as well have put horns on his head while he lays out his plan.

The film recounts a modicum of DeLay's own personal story. (It would have been interesting to hear more about his decadent "hot tub" past, given his holier-than-thou attacks on Bill Clinton and his alliance with the Christian Right.) In any case, most of the The Big Buy focuses on the various ways the already established majority leader helped changed the face of politics in the last part of the 20th century.

Through film clips and interviews with DeLay opponents, viewers learn the details behind DeLay's successful attempt to redistrict much of his home state into a gerrymandered Republican stronghold. (It had previously favored Democratic candidates, even in some conservative districts!) There is also generous coverage of the story behind Texas D.A. Ronnie Earle's investigation-and ultimate indictment-of DeLay's apparent fundraising misdeeds (including charges of money laundering).

Of course, that latter saga is still going on-DeLay's trial is scheduled for early in 2007. But even without a verdict, The Big Buy makes a convincing case against the ambitious legislator with evidence that had been culled well before DeLay stepped down from his leadership position (as the strong-arming "whip" of the House of Representatives).

Birnbaum and Shermbeck mention early in the film that DeLay's office refused to cooperate with them, so The Big Buy takes the opposite approach of the recent "profile" of another corrupt leader, The Fall of Fujimori, in which Peru's deposed despot, Alberto Fujimori, provided the film's centerpiece by consenting to a lengthy interview. The Big Buy relies on archival material to show DeLay in the worst light possible: Even in his moments of triumph, he looks bad, such as during a 2003 function where he is introduced in glowing terms by Jack Abramoff, the soon-to-be-disgraced and indicted super-lobbyist. The filmmakers obviously know their business and build a strong case against DeLay. Yet, without comments from the pro-DeLay forces, the nonfiction feature lacks dramatic tension and becomes somewhat repetitious.

One artistic touch is worth noting: Birnbaum and Shermbeck create a film noir atmosphere with some of the set design and cinematography. (Brief black-and-white shots open and close various segments.) The stylistic choice seem appropriate given the dark, disturbing subject matter and the chilling presence of anti-hero DeLay.

It is hard not to suspect that The Big Buy only reveals the tip of the iceberg of the Tom DeLay story, but the tip is bad enough, thank you.

-Eric Monder


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