Opens at Varsity, Fri., Dec. 7.Rated PG. 125 minutes.
Jonathan Demme, who directed Tom Hanks to an Oscar as the AIDS-afflicted lawyer in Philadelphia, may be the most well-meaning filmmaker in Hollywood; Jimmy Carter, winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize "for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development," is certainly the most well-meaning ex-president in recent American history. And so Demme's documentary portrait has no shortage of good intentions. Running over two hours, they're nearly suffocating. Basically a vérité-style infomercial that follows Carter during a late-2006 book tour to promote his critique of Israel's West Bank occupation, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains provides perfunctory background on its subject's piety and Georgia roots, then plunges along with him into the media maelstrom. Carter fences with Charlie Rose, educates Larry King, and signs a vast quantity of books. He's scarcely the first to characterize the separation that exists in Israel's occupied territories as apartheid—the Israeli left has called it that for years. But, waving the term like a red cape before the American public, Carter has been notably disingenuous in exploiting it. His book actually gives the implied analogy between Israel and white supremacist South Africa short shrift, as does the film. The conditions of the occupation go largely unexplored.