Directed by: 
Michael Mann

Written by: 
Dustin Lance Black and James Vanderbilt, based on the book by Jules Archer

Executive Producer: 
Oliver Stone

Scott Rudin, Michael Mann

Director of Photography: 
Dante Spinotti

William Goldenberg, David Rosenbloom, Paul Rubell

Production Designer: 
Nathan Crowley

Art Director: Patrick Lumb and William Ladd Skinner

Set Decoration: 
Rosemary Brandenburg

Costume Design: 
Colleen Atwood

Original Music: 
Pieter Bourke and Lisa Gerrard
Smedley Butler: Ralph Fiennes
Ethel Butler: Amy Adams
Gerald Maguire: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Robert S. Clark: Josh Harnett
Paul Comly French: Robert Downey, Jr
House Speaker John McCormack: Bruce Greenwood

 Tagline You’ll never guess how close America came to fascism
Ralph Fiennes stars as Smedley Butler, a two-time Congressional Medal of Honor-winning Army general who was much loved for always speaking his mind and never giving in to the corruption and self-interest that had so much infected the United States armed forces during the 1930s. After making headlines with a tremendous speech in Washington on behalf of the Bonus Army, who demanded their wages from the government at the height of the Great Depression, Butler is approached by Gerald Maguire (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a pudgy former soldier and current Bond salesman who offered to support Butler financially should he decide to run for National Commander of the American Legion, but only if he would make a speech calling for the return of the American dollar to the Gold standard. Butler knew more than anybody how often the Legion exploited veterans rather than aiding them, but grew suspicious at Maguire’s insistence on supporting the Gold Standard, and decided to stall him while he did some research of his own.

Butler discovered that corporate interests of the time absolutely hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who Butler helped elect) for taking the dollar off the Gold Standard in order to put more money into circulation, with many calling it a traitorous move that would lead the country to socialism. This only increased Butler’s suspicion as to the real interests of Gerald Maguire, which were compounded when he was visited by Maguire at a speaking event, and was offered an $18,000 bribe to become a spokesman for their cause. Exploding with anger, Butler demanded to know who Maguire’s backers were. Maguire covertly mentioned that he had nine very wealthy backers, one of whom Butler knew from his time in the service, and he would arrange a meeting between the two of them.
This wealthy former soldier was Robert S. Clark, heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune. Like most wealthy Americans of the time, he was very nervous as to how FDR’s financial policies would affect him. He informed Butler that of his $30 million fortune, he was willing to spend half of it to make sure the other half was secure. Enraged at his elitism and snobbery, Butler sends Clark away, but not without becoming increasingly nervous as to what Clark’s partners might do next.

Several months later, Butler is visited again by Maguire, who reveals that he has been on a tour through Europe, visiting the countries newly run by Fascist dictatorships. In a spellbinding, whirlwind of a monologue, Maguire extols the virtues of Fascism and why many of the upper class of America supported it. Finally revealing the true nature of the plot he had been suggestion to Butler was: he and his backers intended to raise an army of 500,000 veterans , “an American Croix De Feu (After the similarly designed fascist movement in France) “, led by Butler, to march on Washington and demand that Franklin Delano Roosevelt to overhaul his cabinet, adding a new position, the “Secretary of General Affairs”, who would dictate all policy and reduce the power of the President to being nothing more than a figurehead. The successful march of this army would mean no less than a Fascist takeover of the United States of America, with Smedley Butler as its Fuehrer!
Appalled, Butler goes to his friends at Newsweek, including reporter Paul French (Robert Downey Jr) to try to gather corroborating information. Going undercover, French gains Maguire’s trust, and learns even more: the backers of the plot included businesses such as DuPont, General Motors, the Rockefeller interests, and the JP Morgan banks, who intended to arm Maguire’s army via their controlling interest in the Remington Arms Company. All of these corporate interests disguised their fascist intentions behind a newly created right-wing organization known as the American Liberty League. Also, he discovered VFW commander James Van Zandt had also been approached to lead the army.

In 1935, Smedley Butler and Paul French go to the House Un-American Activities Committee to report what they’ve discovered. This testimony serves as the framing device to the movie, providing narration and background to the events. While Butler and French were never able to explicitly prove anything, they’re testimony and public revelations caused a wide public backlash against the American Liberty League, which was eventually so hated that political opponents of FDR begged them to not support their candidates.
Press Section: 
Michael Mann returns to the territory of The Insider with this blistering conspiracy thriller, based on a little-known true story. Mann teams up with two of the brightest stars in modern screenwriting, Dustin Lance Black, Oscar-winner for Milk, and James Vanderbilt, who garnered much acclaim for his screenplay to Zodiac, and their co-written screenplay adds the best of their talents to create a story and structure unlike any other biopic we’ve seen. Black’s gift for nonlinear storytelling and narration combine with Vanderbilt’s love for details and character create a movie that at times feels almost like documentary. Mann himself steps up to the challenge with stylish direction that combines perfect period detail (from the same production team behind his 30s crime thriller Public Enemies) with unconventional cinematography and editing, incorporating newsreels, period camerawork, and expert use of dialogue to make sure the movie is fun to look, even when the only things happening on screen are scenes of dialogue, and the score underlines every scene with a constant sense of excitement and suspense.

Of course, without the right cast, all of this could have gone for naught, and Mann and his casting director hit it out of the part. Much like Russell Crow in Mann’s The Insider, Fiennes plays Butler as an unconventional hero who could easily be tempted to give up his quest, but his passion for fairness and morals (as well as he oftentimes explosive temper) keep him away. Philip Seymour Hoffman is at his slimy, seductive best as Gerald Maguire, constantly finding Butler at the most inconvenient times to try to enlist him in his fascist scheme. His role is one that could easily delve into overacting, but Hoffman balances his enthusiasm with his sinister intentions to create a character who at times almost begins to convince us that his plan has some worth, and Josh Hartnett shows a completely different side to his personality than we normally see in his single scene as the smug and arrogant Robert S. Clark.

Mann and Executive Producer Oliver Stone also bring a fascinating view to the politics: the parallels in his story between the American Liberty League and the modern Tea Party are quite clear, and the ways in which an apparently grassroots political organization can be manipulated by business interests are analyzed quite closely, as is the propensity for any change in how the government handles business to lead to an inevitable accusation of “Socialism!” However, these parallels and political statements remain seamlessly integrated into the story, and aren’t distracting at all.

The Plot to Seize the White House is an important story about how easily an apparently democratic nation can almost fall into fascism. The fact that it’s true, but not well known makes it even more important to see: how could such a turbulent and dangerous period of American politics be forgotten? Still, though, the reason to see this movie is just as much about the acting, directing, and writing. This is good cinema, and will not be easily forgotten.
Awards Consideration:
Best Picture
Best Director - Michael Mann
Best Actor - Ralph Fiennes
Best Supporting Actor - Philip Seymour Hoffman
Best Adapted Screenplay - Dustin Lance Black and James Vanderbilt