The 8 Best Political Movies on Netflix

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The 8 Best Political Movies on Netflix

Politics and pop culture have never been more intermingled—for better or worse—but political movies are a long tradition in Hollywood, and Netflix has a good assortment of political documentaries, dramas and satire on offer in their current streaming library. From Ava DuVernay’s important look into American slavery and its legacy into the 21st century to Aaron Sorkin’s narrative take on the Chicago 7, Netflix provides a look at domestic and international political systems beyond the daily news grind. Peruse the full list of the Best Movies on Netflix or dig into the eight Best Political Movies on Netflix below:

1. 13thYear: 2016
Director: Ava DuVernay
Rating: NR

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Director Ava DuVernay has successfully made a documentary that challenges and even dismantles our collective understanding of one of the most dangerous notions of our time: “progress.” How do we define progress, and who precisely gets to define it? 13th is a captivating argument against those who measure progress with laws that pretend to protect American citizens and amendments, and even to uphold the Constitution. It is a deftly woven and defiant look at how clauses within those amendments (specifically the lauded 13th) and the language of our political system both veil and reveal a profound and devastating truth about America: Slavery was never abolished here, DuVernay and the participants in the film argue. It was simply amended, and it continues to be amended in 2016, with the constant evolution of the criminal justice system. It’s a bold and terrifying statement to make, but in using a documentary instead of, say, a narrative film, DuVernay is able to point directly to that history and to those people who have defined “progress” for black Americans. In doing so, she draws a line directly from the 13th amendment, to today’s America, which has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Like some of the best documentaries of our time, 13th is not just a film, but a demand; it’s a call to reject dangerous reiterations, specifically newer and newer Jim Crows. DuVernay’s work doesn’t expressly name what we might build in their place, but it demands that those of us watching resist the seduction of sameness disguised as slow progress, and imagine something greater: actual freedom. —Shannon M. Houston

2. Darkest HourYear: 2017
Director: Joe Wright
Rating: PG-13
Paste Review Rating: 7.7

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Darkest Hour is a film of flummoxed old white men hollering at each other, a perfect foil to (and double-bill alongside) Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, both because the two take place at about the same time during the early years of World War II—as Hitler’s world domination began to take shape and an invasion of the UK imminent—and because they are entirely different experiences: Dunkirk is all action, while Joe Wright’s film is all words. And with volume, those words gain weight—sound, in all of its ephemera and exigencies, is just as important to Darkest Hour as it is to Nolan’s visceral spectacle, except Wright’s are the sounds of bureaucracy and urbanity building to a fever pitch, and Nolan’s are the sounds of bodies in motion through time. Rarely has the uncomfortable, marrow-deep scritch of pen to paper bore such portent, except for maybe in Wright’s other period drama, Atonement. Silence erupts from the din of war—in that ebb and flow of Darkest Hour, Gary Oldman’s performance is formidable. Not only is his makeup beyond convincing (and undoubtedly Oscar-worthy), but Oldman understands that the bluster of what’s required of him to overcome the silliness of both his casting and facade must be balanced—countered and, all puns intended, fleshed out—in quiet. The film’s two most striking moments occur in silence: When Churchill allows his secretary (Lily James, impressively reserved) a moment with him to soundlessly ponder her brother’s death at Caille, and when, first addressing the nation on May 19th to tell white lies about the state of the British army and Hitler’s advance, Churchill’s silence is a palpable thing, felt until he breaks it with the onslaught of war propagandism, which Wright only stylizes via an aerial shot of a French battlefield landscape bombed to smithereens transitioning seamlessly into the landscape of a young corpse’s face, Bruno Delbonnel’s camera lingering on a vacant, clouded-over eye. Wright often pulls out to these aerial shots, relieving the audience of the claustrophobia of war bunkers and overly-festooned rooms and smoky halls full of flummoxed old white men with a God’s Eye perspective. This push-and-pull, between loud and quiet, between intimacy and vastness, deepens what could otherwise end up a mealy-mouthed glimpse at a moment too engorged on its own laudatory memorializing. Which is why Darkest Hour transcends its biopic trappings to work, almost despite itself. —Dom Sinacola

3. The SquareYear: 2013
Director: Jehane Noujaim
Rating: NR

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Bringing calm insight to an impassioned, still-developing historic event, The Square looks at the 2011 Egyptian Revolution from the perspective of those who were on the frontlines from the very beginning, personalizing the dramatic developments without losing a sense of greater stakes. Director Jehane Noujaim, who previously helmed Control Room and co-directed, has delivered a snapshot of a grassroots political movement over its bumpy two-year history, embracing the emotional complexity and logistical obstacles that have made Egyptians’ road to democracy so difficult. Using no voiceover narration and only a handful of intertitles that inform the viewer about the exact time period of events, The Square seeks to create an urgent, immediate experience that tells its story through the reactions of its main participants. In the West, the scenes of peaceful, joyous protest at Tahrir Square were warmly greeted as hopeful signs of a new Middle East. The Square doesn’t throw cold water on those hopes as much as it meticulously demonstrates that systemic change does not come easily. That’s why you care so deeply about the people you see in this movie—it’s not that their quest is easy but that it’s so very hard. —Tim Grierson

4. The Trial of the Chicago 7Year: 2020
Director: Aaron Sorkin
Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, John Carroll Lynch
Rating: R
Paste Review Rating: 6.9

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There’s a scene toward the end of Aaron Sorkin’s interpretation of the 1969 trial of the Chicago 7, aptly titled The Trial of the Chicago 7, where political activist, unapologetic spitfire and constitutional jester Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) is called to give testimony over the events of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. To summarize: The occasion ended in riots, and Hoffman is one of several others—Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), and fall guys Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) and John Froines (Daniel Flaherty)—accused of inciting the chaos. When asked whether he has contempt for his government, Abbie replies that “I think the institutions of our democracy are wonderful things that right now are populated by some terrible people.” His words make up the perfect distillation of Sorkin’s aesthetic, being both a poetically written, powerfully spoken slice of dialogue as well as an eye-rolling fabrication. Hoffman never said anything of the sort, and he never would have because he was an anarchist, not an institutionalist. But the full-Sorkin grandstanding and speechifying at play in the film is so good and so clearly demonstrates his strengths as a writer and filmmaker that fuzzing up the truth doesn’t meaningfully stymie the viewing experience. In fact, The Trial of the Chicago 7 may be his sharpest, most well-made movie yet, an ensemble picture where the focus is on courtroom sparring matches, demonstration reenactments and a sprinkling of archival footage, as well as a predictable game of connect-the-dots between America 51 years ago and America today. But by sanding history’s edges, he turns the story into straightforward crowd-pleasing entertainment for a moment where straightforward crowd-pleasing entertainment about social justice and systemic malfeasance is needed. —Andy Crump

5. The Edge of DemocracyYear: 2019
Director: Petra Costa
Rating: NR

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Though her take is sweeping, her drone shots a tad too obligatory, director Petra Costa draws as many parallels as she’s able to line up the political roots of her family tree with those of her home country. The Edge of Democracy, then, is likely most compelling for viewers unfamiliar with Brazilian politics in pretty much any capacity. Costa intuits this reality—its Oscar nomination signals some Netflixian prestige for this kind of exceptionally well made documentary—and, without being explicit, makes a clear argument that Brazil is, at least, as deserving of its doom as those of us under Trump. Whether you feel that way or not—that everything is sad and fucked—as an American it’s difficult to not see the stories of these two relatively young world powers align with almost monomythical certainty. And yet, Costa allows her sadness to permeate the film, narrating frequently about her grandfather’s construction business, which flourished during the dictatorship while her mother and father put their lives on the line as revolutionaries, in between a wealth of footage and melancholy tracking shots. The moral poetry of it all tips every once in a while into the obvious, but Costa’s handle on the breadth of what she’s covering, aided by some intimate access to key political figures and Brazilian icons like Lula and Dilma Rousseff, bears impressive responsibility for all the personal connections, and self-serious gestures, she makes. —Dom Sinacola

6. Munich: The Edge of WarYear: 2022
Director: Christian Schwochow
Stars: Jeremy Irons, George MacKay, Jannis Niewohner, Sandra Huller, Liv Lisa Fries, August Diehl
Rating: TV-13

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In the first scene of Christian Schwochow’s Munich—The Edge of War, Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner) joyously proclaims to his college buddies that a dazzling new Germany awaits on the horizon, as fireworks sparkle in the background and champagne froths like confetti. The year is 1932, and, of course, there isn’t a soul in the audience who is not aware that this new Germany couldn’t be further from the kind of country that Paul yearns for. Framing Nazi Germany with this level of irony isn’t exactly a groundbreaking move, but this tonal tension does inadvertently highlight the things that Munich gets right—and wrong. The film, based on Robert Harris’s 2017 novel of the same name, follows 1917’s Hugh Legat (George MacKay, who thankfully doesn’t have to spend the entire two hours running), one of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s (Jeremy Irons) private secretaries, who, on the eve of World War II, is fighting alongside college friend Paul to stop Germany from taking over part of Czechoslovakia and launching all of Europe into war. There’s something inherently satisfying about watching a film when you know exactly how it’s going to end. Our familiarity with this story’s ending makes it that much more agonizing when Paul romanticizes the future of his country, just as it precludes any sigh of relief we might be afforded when the characters mistakenly think they have stopped the war. But while watching our characters mistakenly revel on the precipice of war serves Munich’s dramatic effect, it doesn’t do a whole lot for its tension. It’s not a stretch to expect that a film about the infamous Munich Conference to be a ripe bundle of nerves and apprehension. But the film ends up being as suspenseful as a 1990s rom-com. —Aurora Amidon

7. Knock Down the HouseYear: 2019
Director: Rachel Lears
Rating: PG

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For viewers expecting comprehensive policy platforms and detailed breakdowns of the candidates’ positions on the issues of the day, Knock Down the House is about as valuable as the Joe Crowley flyer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez holds under harsh scrutiny partway through the film: All flash, no substance, nothing to inform the audience of the subjects’ politics beneath the surface. But Rachel Lears is more interested in character and profile than she is in ideology, so the unintended hypocrisy is forgivable. Knock Down the House is accidental history in the making, a movie about four progressive Democratic campaigns leading into the 2018 midterms—those of Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin—and the factors driving them to take American governance into their own hands. Truthfully, this is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The Movie. Lears couldn’t have known it at the time—AOC wasn’t AOC then—but Vilela, Bush and Swearengin aren’t household names. They are, bluntly put, losers, and culture tends to remember the winners. Ocasio-Cortez’s presence sets the movie aflame. Even if Lears avoids talking about policy, there’s value in learning about this unexpected Bronx superhero, her origins, her humanity, her success. (Watching footage of Ocasio-Cortez walking into a bar to find that she won her election is a rare, astounding gift.) But even the defeated candidates tell a greater story about increased political action in the late 2010s, as Republican rule increasingly chokes out huge swaths of the country, even swaths that their voters call home. Some people get into politics because of legacy or because they believe in service. Others get into politics because the political is personal. Knock Down the House might not strike the right balance between all of its participants, but it understands that philosophy well. —Andy Crump

8. Charlie Wilson’s WarYear: 2007
Director: Mike Nichols
Stars: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Ned Beatty, Emily Blunt
Rating: R
Paste Review Rating: 6.5

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Scripted by Aaron Sorkin from the novel by George Crile and directed by Mike Nichols, Charlie Wilson’s War was not the enduring blockbuster many moviegoers were hoping for. Which isn’t to say this movie fails to entertain. Tom Hanks puts on his best Texas drawl to inhabit a Congressman more famous for attending Vegas parties than meaningful legislative sessions. Representing a congressional district with the fewest needs in the nation, the titular Wilson trades votes for IOUs. The film picks up as the representative is asked to use his stockpiled favors to enhance the CIA’s covert efforts to crush Russia’s intervention in Afghanistan. Watching Wilson go to war is one hell of a good time. Through sex, drunkenness and innuendo, the decadence of early ’80s politicking certainly comes through. Hanks, perennially reliable, projects an evolving morality that starts out slippery, but becomes almost upright. Wilson limps clumsily through a meeting with the leaders of Pakistan, beds Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts, portraying a prime mover in the covert war, not to mention the sixth richest woman in Texas) and has great fun with an army of gorgeous secretaries. Meanwhile, a cocaine scandal, which takes place largely in the background, is the biggest hint at the Congressman’s seedy side. Nichols’ not-so-secret weapon, which he deploys with little caution, is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays rough-around-the-edges CIA bureaucrat Gust Avrakotos. The scene between Hanks and Hoffman’s characters introducing the coke scandal is pure, perfectly timed comedy. Hoffman can eke a laugh out of nearly anything, and his delivery makes the most of Sorkin’s dialogue. But he also makes one wonder about Nichols’ comfort level with the material, as Gust’s dialogue camouflages many of the film’s strongest political comments. Sorely missing from the film’s war is a sense of import. —Russ Fischer

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